Varsities scrap registration fees for NSFAS students, a few accept walk-in applicants

Students protested last year, demanding that the government fund students who could not afford the fees. President Jacob Zuma caused consternation in December when he promised fee free education. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

Students protested last year, demanding that the government fund students who could not afford the fees. President Jacob Zuma caused consternation in December when he promised fee free education. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

Some universities are accepting students walking in to register and have scrapped registration fees after a Monday meeting between the department of higher education and training (DHET) and a delegation from the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Student Command.

Professor Ahmed Baw, chief executive of Universities of South Africa, said: “Universities that may have academic spaces available will put in place processes to match potential students who have not applied to those spaces.

“Otherwise, students will be directed towards a facility at which they will be advised about next steps, and in particular, to direct them to the DHET’s central applications clearing house site.”

Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training Buti Manamela has insisted that the department’s online system remains the primary system for late applications rather than students spending long hours queuing outside institutions.

Registration fees have been scrapped for students who apply for places in technical vocational education and training (TVET) colleges and universities and who qualified for National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) funding. Student who do not qualify for NSFAS funding have to pay upfront.

University registration opened on Monday and, despite the calls for no walk-in applications, prospective students and those wanting to change their majors queued outside the University of Johannesburg (UJ).

UJ’s site had crashed on Monday morning, contributing to lengthy queues. News24 reported that although UJ’s site had been down, the university had employed 100 call operators to answer prospective students’ queries. UJ officials asked prospective students to apply online or contact the call centre. 

On November 28, UJ reported that it had 115 000 online applicants hoping to secure one of the 10 500 first-year places available at the university.

On January 4, the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) announced it had “finalised its applications for the 2018 academic year”, and would “not be accepting any further applications for the first semester intake”.

Wits received 56 091 applications for 5 664 first-year places. The university said, in total, 79 628 people had applied to the university, which has capacity for only 36 400 students. Wits said it does not have the infrastructure to take on more students and if it did so it would “impact the quality of education and the integrity of the academic programmes on offer”.

Walk-ins
Despite institutions having an excess of applicants, some colleges and universities are continuing to assist students with their late applications. The EFF Student Command has said it would assist students who defied university rules and walked in to register on Wednesday.

“Fighters will marshal students to different registration centres to avoid stampedes and long queues,” said spokesperson Mangaliso Sambo in a Facebook post. “Fighters must also assist walk-ins with food, sanitary towels and ensure safety and security for every student in and around campus.”

Sambo said a ‘Sizofundangenkani [We will learn by force] Campaign’, which would encourage walk-in applications, was being launched “as a means of bridging the gap between those who have access to online platforms and those who do not”.

Gemma Ritchie

Gemma Ritchie

Gemma Ritchie works in the Mail & Guardian's online department. She majored in English Literature at a small liberal arts college in the USA. 
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