Students chant slogans during protests at Wits University. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
Students chant slogans during protests at Wits University. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

As student debt at Wits balloons to R1bn, VC denies excluding 8 000 students

By Zodidi Dano Time of article published Mar 11, 2021

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Johannesburg - Wits University Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Zeblon Vilakazi has denied claims 6 000 to 8 000 students were financially excluded from registering for the 2021 academic year, an action which sparked outrage among students.

“It is not true that Wits has excluded 6 000 - 8 000 students. This number refers to all the students who owe Wits money over the last seven years, including some of whom have dropped out and others who have been academically excluded for failing multiple times, and who have lost their bursaries as a result,” he said.

Students shutdown the university on Monday, after they were denied registration due to debt. Monday was also the day when the university had planned to start the academic year.

According to the university, the students wanted the debt cap limit to be raised to R150 000 per student, currently, it stands at R120 000.

By Wednesday the protests were rife and a 35-year-old man was killed.

Vilakazi said: “The issue of student funding is a national, system-wide issue, which Wits cannot solve alone. The state and other social actors have a critical role to play in resolving this crisis. We need an urgent national debate on this crisis and our students need long-term, definitive solutions to funding higher education.”

He said student debt at the university had gone up to R1billion.

“It is worrying that student debt amounts to approximately R1billion now, almost double what it was at the end of 2017,” adds Vilakazi. “But we remain committed to assisting as many academically talented students as possible to register, within the possibilities of the resources that we have available,” he said.

Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande at his briefing with the Minister in Presidency this morning expressed his condolences to the family of the man killed during the protests.

He said he had instructed Wits University management and Council to provide him with an explanation of how this (the death of the man) had occurred.

On Wednesday he had already sent a delegation to sit with management and council to discuss the fee issue.


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