Vice-chancellors want free tuition for poor students in 2017

The country’s 26 vice-chancellors say that the government should provide free higher education to poor students from January.

This submission from Universities South Africa (USAf) will be made to President Jacob Zuma’s recently established higher education task team.

USAf’s chief executive, Professor Ahmed Bawa, said the vice-chancellors were proposing that students who receive study loans from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), based on an annual household income of R122 000, should not have to repay the money.

Currently, NSFAS beneficiaries are obliged to repay the loan once they graduate and find employment.

USAf has also proposed that over the next three years, the annual income threshold of R122 000 for eligibility for a loan should be increased to R200 000 so that more students can qualify for financial assistance.

“We are by no means out of the woods yet. All of our universities are finding it very difficult to function and there has to be some intervention, because if we enter 2017 with the current situation it would be a disastrous start for next year,” Bawa said.

Although the University of the Witwatersrand’s academic programme proceeded this week, on Tuesday a police van and two buses, including one belonging to the university, were torched. The student representative council has distanced itself from the arson.

Wits is keeping details of its security plan for the exams, which are scheduled to be written from November 3 to 30, under wraps.

University of Cape Town (UCT) spokesperson Elijah Moholola said security personnel will be present during the exams scheduled for November 7 to 25 because of possible disruptions.

“It is inevitable that security will be present, and other security on standby to be deployed, if operations are threatened. We are committed to resorting to the minimum force necessary to protect people and operations.”

Four vehicles were set alight on UCT’s lower campus on Monday night.

UCT students also have the option of writing the exams from January 23 to February 10 next year.

At the University of the Free State, some students will write their exams, which start on November 24, online, according to spokesperson Lacea Loader.

“The necessary contingency plans are in place and the university management will be working with police to monitor the situation on campuses,” she said.

The University of Johannesburg said that 46 000 full-time students and a further 5 000, who are enrolled in continuing professional development programmes, will write their exams from November 19.

Walter Sisulu University has experienced no student unrest and its exams are scheduled to start on November 9.

Unisa spokesperson Martin Ramotshela said exams started on September 28 and will end on November 25.

“There are no disruptions being experienced and none are expected, but we are on high alert.”

Martin Viljoen, spokesperson for Stellenbosch University, said access will be strictly controlled at exam venues. Exams started this week.

Willie du Plessis, spokesperson for North-West University, said the exams have not been disrupted.

The date for the exams at the Vaal University of Technology had to be changed because of student protests. VUT spokesperson Mike Khuboni said the new timetable is not yet out but that exams are expected to start in the first or second week of November.

No exam dates have been set for students from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. CPUT spokesperson Lauren Kansley said there are plans for students to write the exams off campus or online.

Meanwhile, 200 Wits academics have rallied in support of vice-chancellor Adam Habib and his management team.

They said that it was “unhelpful to personalise the dispute around anyone, including Professor Habib. We need a politics of engagement and principled negotiation, not the silencing, violence and polarisation we see now.”

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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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