A 'very sad day' for UWC and higher education

About 20 students at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) have been arrested following fee-related protests on Monday that turned violent.

Normal academic activities resumed on Tuesday morning but were disrupted by midday. And with students due to start writing tests later this week the university’s library was closed on Tuesday after protesters tried to trash it, UWC spokesperson Luthando Tyhalibongo told M&G Education.

UWC has increased security and police are on standby in case protests flare up again and test venues are targeted, Tyhalibongo said.

Stones were thrown and fires started during Monday’s protests, Roscoe Segers, a second-year BComm student a UWC told M&G Education. Protestors also pulled students out of lectures and some students have complained they were robbed of various possessions during the mayhem, he said.

As at the Durban University of Technology last week, the UWC protests related to National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) allocations.
Some students also claimed Pick ‘n Pay vouchers—part of their NSFAS allocations—had stopped being supplied to them.

UWC received R64-million for this year from NSFAS, vice-chancellor Brian O’Connell said in a letter to the UWC campus community on Tuesday. “The pattern in the past has been that students were reluctant to apply for NSFAS funds and the UWC student financial aid office struggled to use all the money,” O’Connell told the campus.

This led in previous years to “some monies being returned to NSFAS, for which the university was heavily criticised”, O’Connell said.

But the pattern changed this year when large numbers of students applied for NSFAS funds, with the result that all these funds were allocated by the end of the first semester, the vice-chancellor said—leaving no grants for the many students who applied in the second semester.

UWC had asked NSFAS for additional funds. The aid scheme “has advised that it could make a limited amount of money available to assist these students but the [amount] would not be anything close to what is required”, O’Connell said.

Peaceful marches last week inexplicably turned violent on Monday and 20 students were arrested, he added. “It is not clear why and how the problem became a UWC one and why the students, knowing that the answer lies with NSFAS, would turn on their university and their fellow students.

“The student representative council is as mystified [as I am],” O’Connell said, concluding: “A very, very sad day for UWC and higher education in South Africa.”

David Macfarlane

David Macfarlane

David Macfarlane is currently the Mail & Guardian's education editor. He obtained an honours degree in English literature, a fairly unpopular choice among those who'd advised him to study something that would give him a real career and a pension plan. David joined the M&G in the late 1990s. There, the publication's youth – which was nearly everyone except him – also tried to further his education. Since April 2010, he's participated in the largest expansion of education coverage the M&G Media has ever undertaken. He says he's "soon" going on "real annual leave", which will entail "switching off this smart phone the M&G youth told me I needed".  
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