/ 28 January 2014

Students protest over shortage of NSFAS funds

Many students who rely on student loans to be able to study at university might have to go home.
Many students who rely on student loans to be able to study at university might have to go home.

Universities were hit by protests on Monday as students expressed dissatisfaction over a shortage of funds from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

About 100 students were protesting outside the University of Johannesburg's (UJ) Kingsway campus over the shortfalls of the scheme.

Professor Tinyiko Maluleke, deputy vice-chancellor: internationalisation, student affairs and institutional advancement, said universities administered funds according to NSFAS guidelines on behalf of group.

"Unfortunately, it goes without saying that universities can only allocate funds which they received from NSFAS," he said.

"In this case, UJ did not receive sufficient funds to assist all students who qualify for NSFAS funding. We understand the students' concern and recognise their problem."

Maluleke said in order to be able to accommodate the 7 800 qualifying students on the NSFAS loan at UJ, the university had to add R30-million from its own coffers.

"Unfortunately, for 2 170 qualifying students [who would need R113-million] NSFAS has not provided funding. The university is currently in discussion with the NSFAS office and the department of higher education," he said.

Maluleke said UJ management would continue to seek an urgent and lasting solution to the problem.

Mangosuthu University of Technology, in Durban, was also hit by protests that led to disruptions of lectures.

Protesting students were demanding to be re-registered despite unpaid student fees. The unpaid fees related to students funded by NSFAS.

"This year, the university has received a grant amounting to R167 512 494 from NSFAS, only 6% more [than] last year's grant.

"This is a challenge because even last year NSFAS could only fund 20 percent of first-year students. This is beyond the control of the university because NSFAS is an external and autonomous body in its own right," she said.

NSFAS had not paid last year's fees for some students, Mkhize said.

She said the institution would communicate with NSFAS and the higher education department to resolve the issue.

Lectures to resume
Lectures were stopped on Monday, but Mkhize said security was beefed up and she expected lectures to resume on Tuesday.

Durban University of Technology experienced similar scenes, as protesting students pulled others out of lecture rooms.

Students Representative Council president Ayanda Ngidi said a meeting with the university's executive on Monday revealed that the management had failed to act on any of its demands.

Students presented their grievances to Vice Chancellor Ahmed Bawa last Wednesday.

"They didn't even attend to one issue," Ngidi said, adding that the students had embarked on a full-blown strike.

Safety of staff and students
DUT spokesperson Alan Khan said lectures were cancelled shortly before midday in an attempt to ensure the safety of staff and students who were not participating in the protest.

He said the police were called, but because of the size of the three campuses – Steve Biko, Ritson and ML Sultan – it was impossible to ensure the safety of those who were not protesting.

The SRC's main demand was that students whose fees had not been paid by NSFAS should be allowed to re-register despite the non-payment.

"We have no jurisdiction over what NSFAS disburses. The majority of students are not part of the protests," Khan said.

He rejected Ngidi's assertion that DUT had not tackled any of the students' demands.

He said the book allowance had been increased from R1000 a student to R1500.

"It wasn't pleasant being on campus today," said Khan.

Mass protests
Khan said management would meet later on Monday to decide what action to take and when lectures would resume.

On Sunday, the South African Students' Congress (Sasco) called for mass student protests over the shortages.

"No registration at the universities until all students are given equal opportunities," Sasco president Ntuthuko Makhombothi told reporters in Johannesburg.

Makhombothi said the lack of funds prohibited poor prospective students from gaining access to higher learning.

He said the NSFAS continued to cater for few students and exclude majority of those who were poor, even if they met the requirement of being academically deserving and financially needy.

'An attack on the poor'
​Makhombothi called on South African students to rally behind their action.

"Everything we have achieved in this country was through united actions. This is not a time to lock ourselves in boardrooms and have permanent meetings that do not resolve the plight of our students," he said.

He said it was shocking and extremely disturbing that the institutions that were confronted with the problems were the previously black institutions where children of the workers and the poor studied.

"It is therefore an attack on the poor and it ought to be responded to with serious mass action. In the principle of unity … Sasco is engaged in preparations for a … strike in the entire tertiary landscape," he said. – Sapa