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Father fails in legal bid for daughter to graduate at Wits due to R100,000 fees owed

Students walk past the University of the Witwatersrand. Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Students walk past the University of the Witwatersrand. Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jun 9, 2023


Pretoria - The father of a final-year student at the University of the Witwatersrand and his daughter failed in their legal bid for the student to graduate at the graduation ceremony and register for a Bachelor of Education Honours degree until all her student fees have been paid.

The father is said to be in arrears of about R100,000 towards his daughter’s university fees.

While acknowledging that he is behind in paying his daughter’s fees, the father, only identified as Mr M, turned to the Gauteng High Court, Johannesburg in a bid to force the university to give his daughter her degree.

He also wanted an order that she could enrol now for her Honours degree next year.

Ms M successfully finalised her studies but the university refused to allow her to graduate and refused to allow her to register for the Honours degree programme.

It said that in terms of its policy, final-year students must have paid their tuition fees before being allowed to graduate. If it made an exception for Ms M, it would open the floodgates to others to do the same, it argued.

The court agreed with the university and said it acted lawfully in accordance with the Higher Education Act.

This was not the first time that the father and the university met in court over the non-payment of fees.

Last year a similar application was launched by the father who asked that the university be compelled to register his daughter to finalise the final year of the B Ed degree programme, it being her fourth year of studies.

The university at the time agreed, under condition that the father provided it with an acknowledgement of debt whereby he bound himself as surety and co-principal debtor with his daughter, for payment of R102,139.32.

The father meanwhile did not comply with the terms of the acknowledgement of debt.

The university said it had complied with its undertaking so that Ms M could finish her final year, but this time it is putting its foot down.

The father argued that the university was obliged to institute debt recovery proceedings against him and not against his daughter by refusing her to graduate after the successful completion of her studies.

He said that the court earlier, when he and his wife had divorced, ordered that he was the one who had to pay for her studies.

The father said the daughter could not be punished for his non-payment.

He also told the court that if it did not grant this order, he could be held in contempt of the earlier divorce order.

The university said the father first bound himself as a surety and co-principal debtor with his daughter to pay R102,139.32. This has not been done, thus no graduation.

It was further argued that this was not the end of the road for the daughter. If her father paid his debt to the university, she can attend the July graduation and subsequently enrol for her Honours.

The university made it clear that it has to enforce its rules and regulations which, if incorrectly applied, may lead to severe prejudice – not only to the university and the body of students which it represents, but also to the public in general.

But the father insisted that the university infringed upon his daughter’s right to human dignity, freedom and equality, education and her right to pursue her trade or profession.

Acting Judge G Meyer remarked that the indulgence granted by the university last year was exceptional in allowing the daughter to finish her final year, despite the debt.

The registrar of the university pointed out that students who enrolled at the university voluntarily assume liability to pay all outstanding fees.

It said its statute was clear: if fees are not paid, a student will not be allowed to re-register in any faculty until all fees and other money due to the university have been paid and a final-year student will not be permitted to graduate.

Judge Meyer, in turning down the father’s application, concluded that the university is entitled to its stance regarding non-payment of fees.

The judge said the university was not collecting a debt as defined in the National Credit Act 34 of 2005.

It opposed the application in a bona fide attempt to enforce its rules and regulations to prevent any prejudice which may result should it fail to oppose such an application.

Pretoria News