TUT suspends student council over NSFAS protests

Management at the strike-torn Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) has suspended the institution’s student representative council (SRC). 

Ndlela Xaba, officer of student affairs and extra-curricular development in the central SRC, told the Mail & Guardian security guards woke him up at about 1am on Monday to give him the suspension letter. Other members of the structure also got their letters in the wee hours of the morning, he said.

“The letter doesn’t state reasons. It just notifies us of the suspension of [the] SRC,” said Ndlela.

But it’s clear that the decision relates to the student protest that hit the university last week. The institution is currently closed due to the action.  

Management issued a statement over the weekend saying classes would resume this coming Wednesday.

Like at all other universities that have had student strikes recently, TUT students took to protest over the National Student Financial Aid Scheme’s (NSFAS) funding fiasco.

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

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.

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

Msulwa Daca, NSFAS’s chief executive, reiterated to Parliament’s oversight committee on higher education and training last week that the scheme is unable to meet funding demand. 

The NSFAS shortfall threatens the education of about 10 000 students across TUT’s nine campuses, according to SRC president Mboniseni Dladla.

He told the M&G that management had recently notified these students – who were approved for NSFAS loans – their tuition fees won’t be paid due to a lack of funds. This meant they wouldn’t receive their academic results for 2014, and would be barred from registering next year. 

“They have insufficient funds to pay for those students that they have approved [for NSFAS funding]. You can’t approve people and then send them SMSs later in the year that you can’t pay for them,” said Dladla. 

‘Misplaced’ decision
Xaba said management’s decision to suspend the SRC was misplaced. “We didn’t start the strike, the students did. But we [got involved out of an] understanding that an unorganised strike will cause chaos like burning of buses.”

He said management’s action “doesn’t mean that we can’t lead. Whether we’re suspended or not, we still have a responsibility to lead those who elected us”. 

Willa de Ruyter, TUT’s spokesperson, had not responded to questions at the time of publishing. 

Vaal University of Technology (VUT), another institution engulfed in student protests over NSFAS, remains closed. Irene Moutlana, its vice-chancellor, has told students classes will resume on Thursday.

The M&G reported last week that students at VUT took to protests following months of struggling to buy food and having to attend classes on empty stomachs. Due to inadequate funds from NSFAS, the institution’s management decided to revoke meal allowances for semester students.

Mike Khuboni, VUT spokesperson, said management had tried to make do after receiving insufficient funds from NSFAS.

“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”.

TUT and VUT became the latest universities in recent months to see student protests because of NSFAS, following Mangosuthu University of Technology, University of Limpopo and Fort Hare University.

It appears even more NSFAS-related protests could hit many universities in January 2015 because government hasn’t made commitments to address the scheme’s funding shortfall.

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