The University of Cape Town is among five universities that withheld degrees of less than 1 000 graduates who owe it. It kept 325 certificates and is owed R14m. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)
The University of Cape Town is among five universities that withheld degrees of less than 1 000 graduates who owe it. It kept 325 certificates and is owed R14m. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Varsities withhold 106 000 certificates of graduates owing R10.4bn in fees

By Bongani Nkosi Time of article published Mar 24, 2021

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Johannesburg - In what indicates the extent and implications of historical student debt in the country, universities are withholding qualification certificates of no less than 106 000 graduates due to unpaid fees running to R10.4 billion.

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande has detailed these staggering figures in a written reply to parliamentary questions.

Nzimande’s office received the data from universities two weeks ago, as it prepared a reply to questions by the EFF’s Sinawo Tambo. Nzimande replied to Tambo last week.

Universities’ practise of withholding certificates can have dire consequences for graduates.

News broke in 2015 that Sello Molewa struggled to put his media studies degree to any use because the University of Limpopo (UL) had withheld it for almost a decade for owing R9 770.

The data released by Nzimande showed that Walter Sisulu University currently withheld the highest number of certificates. Owed R526 million, it kept 20 088 degrees and diplomas.

Withholding 17 840 qualification certificates, the University of KwaZulu-Natal came second. The institution was owed a staggering R868m.

Graduates owed the Central University of Technology R1.8 billion, hence 12 985 had their certificates withheld.

The Tshwane University of Technology had 11 255 graduates’ certificates in its possession. Its data revealed that it was owed R4.4b in historical debts.

Owed over R342m, UL held certificates of 10 345 graduates.

Wits University, a site of current student protests, withheld 3 426 degrees. It was owed over R224m.

Though it held certificates of 4 023 graduates, the University of the Free State (UFS) reported being owed much less than Wits. Graduates owed UFS R65m.

The University of Johannesburg was owed over R537m and kept certificates of 7 722 graduates.

The University of Cape Town was among five universities that withheld degrees of less than 1 000 graduates. It kept 325 certificates and was owed R14m.

Only one university indicated it did not withhold certificates of owing students. This is the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT). Now owed a whopping R1.1bn, CPUT management sought to do away with its practice.

Tambo told The Star on Tuesday that Nzimande’s reply confirmed “what we long knew, that there is a crippling student debt crisis in South Africa.

“This debt has a harmful impact on the personal and national developmental prospects of citizens and the country itself.

“Students can’t look for jobs, can’t transcend into the post-graduate and transform representation in academia.”

Interventions were needed to tackle the issue, Tambo added.

“The long-term solution is the complete decommodification of education and the introduction of free education as a social good and means of developing society.”

The Star

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