After queuing for hours the students – some of whom arrived at the campus in the morning – were told after 6pm that TUT was no longer accepting late applications. The Mail & Guardian saw students who largely came from Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Limpopo leaving the campus dejected.
In a tent containing more than 300 hopeful applicants, officials called those that had applied early to the side and told the rest they should go home.
Thousands of matriculants turned up to apply at the campus, which had about 636 spaces available across 14 courses. The neighbouring University of Pretoria was relatively quiet, where the M&G spotted a shorter queue of late applicants.
"It's bad that I can't apply after queuing so long," Eric Mamabolo from Polokwane, told the M&G when leaving TUT.
"They tell us courses are full so that we can go away. They know more students are coming to apply and I think they are trying to manage the numbers," Mamabolo said.
Partly to blame
Mamabolo will apply again at TUT in March so that he can start his university studies in the June semester, he said.
A matriculant from Edenvale, who was walking with Mamabolo but refused to be named said: "I'm not happy that we're being turned away, but I'll apply for the June semester. This time I'll apply on time."
Students were aware that they were partly to blame for being turned away. While thousands applied last year and are now just waiting to register, the batch turned away was trying to apply late.
Walk-in late applications were partly blamed for the death of Gloria Sekwana at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) last year, while trying to help her son apply. UJ has since banned walk-in late applications.
"It's disappointing that they're now closed for applications, but we can't blame them for this. It's our fault that we didn't apply last year," Lawrence Mahlangu, a matriculant from Thokoza in Mpumalanga, told the M&G.
Allure of FETs
Mahlangu said he is now hoping to apply in March. "My option now is to wait until March and apply here at TUT. It's not a train smash," he said.
The department of higher education and training is hoping matriculants like those turned away at TUT will respond positively to its campaign meant to attract them to the public Further Education and Training (FETs) colleges to apply. FETs are open for late applications and registration from Tuesday.
Blade Nzimande, the department's minister, reminded students last week that there are 50 FET Colleges with 264 campuses all over the country, "which offer a range of programmes that cater for most students' needs and interests ranging from engineering, business studies, art and music to food services". There are 23 universities, including universities of technology, in the country.
"FET Colleges are post school institutions of choice for South Africa's economic growth, critical and scarce skills provision for the country and the reduction of unemployment," said Nzimande in the speech he delivered in Durban last week.