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University registration disrupted

By Danielle van Wyk

2016 has started with a bang as University of the Witwatersrand (WITS) students took to resurrecting the #FeesMustFall campaign. With other institutions resuming their 2015 examinations, that were deferred due to protest action last year.

Earlier this week saw the opening of registration at various institutions around the country including WITS, who later that day, due to protest action, saw the process being suspended.

Registration at WITS

According to a News24 report,  WITS SRC (student representative counsel) president, Nompendulo Mkatshwa, was at the forefront of protests, addressing students and parents, emphasising that they would disrupt registration until their demands of free registration for all academically qualifying students were met.

This following an offer from the university’s SRC to give students grace until March 2016 to pay.

In addition, students who cannot afford to pay the first payment can fill in a form online indicating that they cannot pay, and the University will allow them to register, explained Wits communications manager Shirona Patel.

“The campus security evicted about 20 students that were occupying the Ground Floor of Senate House and who effectively disrupted the University’s registration process yesterday. The students were asked to leave last night but did not do so, and were thus evicted this morning. Four security guards were injured but we have had no reports of students being hurt.
 
“The occupation infringed on the rights of students who wanted to register, many of them the poorest of the poor that required assistance from the University. The University suspended face to face registration on Monday and Tuesday and students were requested to register online and telephonically. Face to face registration will continue from tomorrow, Wednesday, 13 January 2015,’’ stated Patel.
 
At the University of Johannesburg (UJ) access cards have been deactivated till the registration process, that began yesterday, is concluded, explained Samantha Van Zyl from Student Village.
 
Is the call for scrapping of registration fees feasible? 
 
Van Zyl said: ‘’It speaks to student’s plight in their affordability crisis. The general sentiment is that education is a right, however not everybody can afford it. This goes for registration and any other fees associated with studies. In essence, different universities use these funds for different costs. Institutions also have to sustain themselves.
 
“The fact that fees have been kept the same as 2015 is already leaving a dent in universities planning to sustain and grow their offerings. The simple task of remaining competitive and up to date in curriculum is also dependent on investment. Thus making the feasibility of scrapping registration fees very difficult to ascertain.”
 
Government student funding 
 
In addition to the pledged internal assistance from universities like UJ, stating that “support would also be provided to those who struggled with costs, via the University’s SRC Trust Fund,” the government through higher education minister, Blade Nzimande, has urged student leaders to communicate with the department if they still experienced issues regarding student funding.
 
This shortly after proposing a multi-million rand plan to end protest action late last year, that constituted R10 billion for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and R6.9 billion for students whose financial aid had not been paid for the last three years, and for their further education.
 
A meeting is to be held on Thursday, with the leaders of Student Representative Councils (SRCs) nationally.

Nzimande reportedly said that the presidential task team erected last year, post protest action, has realised that the means test, used to sift out students that were financially deserving of assistance, was ‘too low’, and excluded the vast majority of those whose parents simply couldn’t afford university. Addressing the matter of the ‘missing middle’ would be a big step forward.

“Creating platforms for students to voice their problems without having them resort to protest could be a viable solution.
“Forums, debates, discussions could remedy protest action to an extent. Students want to be acknowledged and know they are being heard. They also want to be kept informed and it’s up to government and institutions to ensure this is managed effectively. 

“They should also make the application period as user-friendly as possible especially with new students coming in that have not been exposed to the protests,” added Van Zyl.

Is R16 billion enough? 

According to Mike Schussler, director of Economists.co.za, R16 billion is a feasible amount, “as it is added to other amounts that the students can get. There should be enough money with the R4 billion and other corporate money in the system. Students should note that they too have a responsibility towards society and that is that they also contribute in some form or another. Either by paying money or by future higher payments or taxes. The Rand decline will impact food in the short run and books and other things in the medium term.”

Student debt 

Despite the pledge from government, part of which stating that students that receive funding under NSFAS would have their debt cleared, there are still many students who are in a lurch because of unpaid fees.

‘’Students who have made debts need to pay back. Remember students are the future “rich” in SA and we need them to pay back. Whether they pay in higher taxes or in the form of paying back the money – like our President – or higher interest rates it does not matter they will pay for their studies and debt in one way or another,” highlighted Schussler.

Plainly put, on the topic of free education, Schussler stated that nothing is free, somewhere along the line someone will be made to pay. 

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