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Unrest sweeps through SA campuses

A wave of unrest is sweeping through the country’s public further education and training colleges as students demand improved management.
Students say they have been driven to the edge primarily by the mismanagement of public funds allocated for their transportation, as well as problems related to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme bursaries.
Classes have already been indefinitely suspended at two Limpopo colleges, Letaba and Waterberg. Students are set to take to the streets again on Friday after police put a stop to an illegal protest at Letaba, arresting nine students who were subsequently released after a night in custody.
“We will have a legal march to management this Friday,” said a student who asked not to be named.
The chief executive of the Waterberg college, Patrick Mailula, told the M&G classes would remain suspended until a solution was found. The college stopped classes after last week’s violent protest, during which a college vehicle was torched.
But although issues remain unresolved in their institutions, students in two Western Cape FET colleges who went on strike last week have returned to class while their representatives continue negotiations with management.
Sello Nkhatho, provincial secretary of the South African Students’ Congress (Sasco), told the M&G that students in the College of Cape Town and False Bay College resumed classes after demonstrations last week.
New protests
New protests broke out in the Umlazi campus of the Coastal KZN College in KwaZulu-Natal over claims of mismanagement on Wednesday, exactly a week after students in the As-Salaam campus went on strike. Students in As-Salaam are up in arms over allegedly being forced to practise Islam once enrolled in the campus, located in the Kwa-Makhutha village.
Coastal KZN College students will march to the education department on Friday, SRC’s Mfundo Mokoena said. “We will hand over a memorandum calling for the removal of Coastal KZN College’s top management,” he added. 
The striking Letaba students maintain the system used to administer transport allocations disadvantages them. Furthermore, grievances over NSFAS bursaries have also compelled them to abandon classes. The student who spoke to the M&G said they had not received letters of approval from the college, which indicate how much money they have been allocated for the year.
She said students feared that they might be given bursaries that do not cover all fees, as it happened in 2010. She still owes fees for that year, though she has progressed to subsequent levels of study. “I’ve not seen my results since 2010.”
Students in the Western Cape’s colleges also felt hard done by the transport funds allocation system. They complain that often they are granted funds that do not cover all transport costs, while the government’s policy sets R6 000 as the maximum transportation amount one can receive per year.
Unified allocation of funds
Nkhatho said the root of problems in travel allowances is that the higher education and training department has not set policy for college management to follow.
“There is a need for the department to provide a unified and consolidated way for allocation of funds,” said Nkhatho. “Right now the department does not have a clear policy on how colleges should allocate travel allowances. College CEOs just use their discretion, with some allocating less to students.”
But the national higher education and training department has resolved that guidelines for administration of travel allowances need to be reviewed.  “The department is … in the process of revising the bursary guideline document with clearer stipulations on the administration of the transport award,” said Vuyelwa Qinga, the department’s spokesperson.
Qinga said the department’s position on the R6 000 travel allowance has been communicated to all colleges. “No college may award amounts exceeding the R6 000 maximum allocation.”
There are now plans to organise a workshop with SRCs from all FET colleges to sort bursary administration issues, said Qinga. “The annual training that is conducted by the department for bursary administration officers in the colleges will similarly address this issue.”
“The department has visited those colleges that have experienced protests by students to explain the position to students and college management,” Qinga added.

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Bongani Nkosi
Bongani is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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