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Unisa’s top staff take R10m bonus cut to fund students

While several universities experience growing campus unrest over demands for free higher education, senior administrators at Unisa are donating half of their bonuses to assist students in need.

Unisa’s vice-chancellor, Professor Mandla Makhanya, as well as his registrar, seven vice-principals and five executive and deputy executive deans will contribute a total of R10-million towards the institution’s bursary fund.

The money will be used to top up the university’s existing contribution of R74.1-million that funded 4 555 undergraduate and postgraduate students this year.

A further 13 667 students received funding of almost R226-million from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). But at least 8 392 applicants, who qualified for NSFAS funding in the second semester, could not be assisted.

For the first time, Unisa wrote off almost R60-million in bad debts because of students’ inability to pay fees.

“We are trying to also be sensitive to this reality. What we’ve done is to say that students that are owing small amounts of money, up to R5 000, let’s not block them from graduating. Let’s allow them to graduate and then get them to make arrangements to repay once they have succeeded in getting employment,” Makhanya said.

He said the demand for NSFAS funding was growing, adding: “There are students who end up not necessarily getting the kind of support that they are hoping for.

“We still have to work more to ensure that we put much more resources because the number of students who are struggling to raise their own fees is actually increasing, something that we never experienced a decade ago.”

Said Makhanya: “We understand the demand by students for free education, but given the challenges that this worthy cause encompasses and the reality that it cannot be achieved overnight, we deemed it prudent to make our contribution to try to alleviate the inclement conditions of our students.”

Makhanya said the contribution by his management team was in recognition of “the importance of education in the growth and development of our country”.

Senior management donated R148 040 into the bursary fund last year, and other staff donated R59 956.

He is also planning to appeal to those on the lower levels of management to make donations.

Makhanya said he applauded Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande’s recent announcement on funding middle-class students whose household income is below R600 000.

Makhanya, as well as his registrar, seven vice principals, five executive and deputy executive deans, Unisa’s executive management and its executive and deputy executive directors will contribute R10-million towards the institution’s bursary fund.

“Unisa will work closely with the DHET (Department of Higher Education) and NSFAS to ensure the optimal use of the bursaries and provide sound administration of the additional resources,” said Makhanya.

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Prega Govender
Prega Govender is the Mail & Guardians education editor. He was a journalist at the Sunday Times for almost 20 years before joining the M&G in May 2016. He has written extensively on education issues pertaining to both the basic and higher education sectors.

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