/ 9 June 2012

KZN students’ discontent just the tip of the iceberg

Discontent over management at many of the country's FET colleges is growing.
Discontent over management at many of the country's FET colleges is growing.

Students’ demands this week for the complete overhaul of the management of the Coastal KwaZulu-Natal Further Education and Training (FET) College following claims of incompetence mirrored the unrest at many of the country’s other FET colleges.

The KwaZulu-Natal students handed a memorandum to the higher education and training department, in which the students’ representative council (SRC) lists a wide range of issues that it wants addressed, the most important of which is the administration of National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas).

KwaZulu-Natal is one of three provinces in which FET students have expressed anger over what they deem to be poor governance and management. This week, disruptions continued at two Limpopo colleges, and a return to normality at two unruly Western Cape FETs was soured by the appearance of eight of their students in the Khayelitsha Magistrate’s Court in connection with last week’s violent protest.

Sello Nkhatho, a provincial chairperson of the South African Students’ Congress, said the students had not been charged but were told to appear in court.

Students at the False Bay Khaye­litsha campus are up in arms over the quality of their lecturers. “We need qualified lecturers, more especially for maths and science,” said Nkhatho.

Classes were disrupted at four of eight campuses of Coastal Kwa­Zulu-Natal this week. Students have demanded the firing of four executives, including rector Patche Tigere, who could not be reached for comment.

“We appeal to the department to speed up its interventions in the campuses because students are frustrated,” said Mfundo Mokoena, SRC president at Coastal KwaZulu-Natal.

The government wants to increase enrolment at the colleges, which now fall under the higher education and training department. Its aim is to have at least four million students studying at these colleges by 2030.

At present, there are slightly more than  437 000 registered students at the colleges, which primarily provide vocational and practical skills training.

“The administration of Nsfas is a big challenge facing the college,” the KwaZulu-Natal students told the department.

Students at the Letaba FET in Limpopo claim not to have seen their progress reports since 2010 because their fees for that year were not paid in full. Nevertheless, they were allowed to progress to the next level. They also say they have not received letters confirming the amount of their bursary allocations this year.

No allowances yet
The same claim was made by the KwaZulu-Natal students, who “have not been told if they got 2012 [Nsfas] bursaries or not”, and they had still “not been given transport and accommodation allowances”, according to the memorandum.

A new report by the Human Sciences Research Council should provide some pointers for the government on how to improve the colleges. Among the problems, the council found that the financial management of the colleges was being hampered by their “widespread failure to appoint” chief financial officers. Only 14 of the country’s 50 colleges had filled the post and the report said this might have contributed to the high number of qualified audits reported by the colleges between 2007 and 2009.

The report said 57% of the lecturing staff were underqualified, indicating that nearly half of all lecturing staff nationally were not deemed qualified according to the standard set by the national policy framework for teacher education and development.

The higher education department did not respond to questions sent to its spokesperson, Vuyelwa Qinga.