VUT plunged into crisis as students go hungry

Students at Vaal University of Technology have not received food allocations because NSFAS had not provided the necessary funding, says management. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

Students at Vaal University of Technology have not received food allocations because NSFAS had not provided the necessary funding, says management. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

It became apparent on Thursday that the strike-torn Vaal University of Technology (VUT) has been plunged into crisis by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme’s (NSFAS) funding flop.

NSFAS is a loan and bursary scheme the government introduced in 1999 to ensure poor matrics access university education. But this year, the state scheme only managed to fund half the university students that qualified for its loans and bursaries.

Students approved for funding at VUT told the Mail & Guardian of the successive months they’ve had to go without their food allocations, while management said NSFAS had not provided the necessary funding.

The university remained closed on Thursday as a result of a violent student strike that took place last week. Management evicted students from residences, but a handful waited at the gates on Thursday hoping to gain entrance, telling the M&G they had no money to go home.

The protest had been simmering since the second semester started in July when semester students learnt they were no longer getting their meal allowances.

Mahlogonolo Moeketsi, a student who pleaded with security guards to grant him access to the campus, said it’s been difficult studying without enough food to eat.

“No food means lack of concentration in class.
How can I concentrate in class on an empty stomach? It’s been a hard year.”

He said his food allowance was cut off when he returned for the current semester. “How do you cover tuition and books and then suddenly, there’s no food anymore? It’d be better of the vice-chancellor to tell us what the problem is.”

Moeketsi wasn’t sure how he’d survive if he were not allowed back into his room. Travelling to and from home in Rustenburg, North West costs R400.

“If I go home now, I’d have to come back as soon as classes reopen again. I don’t have the money.”

Food allowance
But even before the meal allowance was cut off, VUT students were not getting enough food funds.

Lefa Mashigo, whose food allowance has not been cut because she’s a year-course student, said they have been getting R333 for food monthly.

“It’s little, but then what can we say, that’s what we’re allocated. It’s not enough, us ladies can only buy toiletries with the money. We’ve been getting this since March, and we didn’t get anything for February.”

She said “weekend piece jobs” provided a lifeline for students, “or else you can’t survive”. “After all we need education. We can’t survive without education.”

Insufficient funds
Mike Khuboni, university spokesperson, told the M&G the university received insufficient funds from NSFAS and so management tried to make do with little.

“Earlier in the beginning of the year and because of insufficient funding received from the NSFAS, the finance committee – made up of student representative council members and VUT management – unanimously decided to prioritise and allocate more of these funds to books and less on food.”

Khuboni said they were “not anticipating that the shortage would be severe and cause problems and stress to many of our students”.

Also fuelling the strife at the university is non-funding of B-Tech degree students. NSFAS no longer funds students at this level at universities of technology. It funds students up to a National Diploma.

“Students are aware and they know exactly that the Department of Higher Education and Training took a stance that it will not fund B-Tech degrees. Last year, the university – out of its generosity decided to fund 70% of the tuitions fee for our B-Tech students. Seemingly this year, our students are demanding the same,” said Khuboni.

The government’s allocation to NSFAS has increased from R3.1-billion in 2009 to just less than R9-billion next year. This includes R3.9-billion for university student loans and R2.1-billion for college bursaries.

But the recurrent student protests at public universities and colleges over financial exclusions are a blunt reminder that the government’s allocation is inadequate.

VUT became the latest university in recent months in which students revolt because of NSFAS, following Mangosuthu University of Technology, University of Limpopo and Fort Hare University last month.

The M&G recently reported that it appears NSFAS-related protests would hit many universities in January, as the government hasn’t made commitments to address the scheme’s funds shortfall.

Bongani Nkosi

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