Application fees impede university access’

The University of KwaZulu Natal said all applications from first-entry students are handled by the Central Applications Office.

The University of KwaZulu Natal said all applications from first-entry students are handled by the Central Applications Office.

Published Feb 5, 2024


Student union wants universities to scrap the application fees paid by prospective students looking for a place to study, saying the fees impede access for poor students.

The South African Union of Students (SAUS) said the fees were unjust and at the very least, this money should not be kept by universities but should rather be used to assist students that are already enrolled and struggling financially.

With the exception of applications within KwaZulu-Natal, which has a Central Applications Office through which prospective first-year students pay a single fee to apply to all four universities and some private colleges in the province, applications to other universities must be done individually with an application fee applying to each of the institutions.

Theses fees are non-refundable.

With the recent figures showing that universities receive thousands of applications and only accept a fraction of the applicants, student unions have argued that some universities had generated millions of rand from application fees.

At least two universities said they only charged a R100 fee and one said if a student can prove they cannot afford it, that fee is waived.

SAUS spokesperson Asive Dlanjwa said application fees have been turned into a money-making scheme and was an impediment to poor students being able to apply to universities.

“We condemn these application fees in the strongest terms possible. We had fought this and partially won the battle a few years ago and some of these universities started dropping the fees,” said Dlanjwa.

He added that the universities know their capacity yet they continued to “accept an endless list of applications and generate this money”.

Dlanjwa said these applications did not cost the university and because it would be a logistical nightmare to refund the students not accepted, the funds could be used to subsidise the students who cannot register to complete their degrees because they are short of funds. He said they wanted a central applications system for all the country’s universities.

Sanele Zondo, national chairperson of the IFP youth brigade, said if there was a need to pay, the amount should be nominal. “We have discussed the matter as a committee and we looked at the pros and cons of this. We believe the process currently is very expensive and at the very least this amount should be small. The question that we have for the Department of Higher Education is how much money is being generated by the institutions through this?

Whether accepted or not, you still pay. We believe that what is fair is for only those accepted should pay.”

In a statement, the Stellenbosch University said: “At Stellenbosch, a non-refundable application fee of R100 is payable once, per application. The fee covers administrative costs.”

It said, however, that undergraduate applicants from quintile 1 to 3 schools are exempted from paying the fee.

The university said international student at the undergraduate and post-graduate levels (excluding Stellenbosch Business School applicants) pay an application fee of R400.

UCT said in a statement the application fee for prospective undergraduate and postgraduate students from South Africa and the Southern African Development Community region is R100.

“The application fee is non-refundable and goes towards covering the cost of processing the application,” said the statement.

The University of KwaZulu Natal and Mangosuthu University of Technology said all applications from first-entry students are handled by the Central Applications Office.

Universities South Africa CEO and spokesperson, Dr Phethiwe Matutu, said admission matters were a competency of university registrars and, therefore, were a common agenda in engagements of the Registrars’ Forum, one of the communities of practice operating under the auspices of Universities South Africa.

Matutu said that the issue of application fees was one of many compelling reasons behind the Department of Higher Education and Training’s decision to establish a Central Application Service (CAS) 11 years ago.

“The idea then was for all university applications to be submitted and processed through one central facility.

“This would have enabled aspiring students to pay once, listing their preferred institutions in one application – in the order of their preference, in line with their programme choice (s).

“Unfortunately, this facility has yet to take off. CAS was piloted on a small scale for 2024 and will be expanding the number of participating institutions in 2025.

“A successful start to that facility might well solve the issue of paying multiple application fees that are inevitable when one tries their luck at numerous institutions.”

The Mercury