Free State university decries financial exclusion article

'It is important to understand the university’s system of provisional registration and to see it in context,' writes the institution (John McCann/M&G)

'It is important to understand the university’s system of provisional registration and to see it in context,' writes the institution (John McCann/M&G)

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The article by Thato Rossouw titled “The cold shadow of exclusion” refers.

The executive management of the University of the Free State (UFS) rejects the perception created by Rossouw that provisional registration is racially based. The university does not discriminate in any way in considering students who wish to take advantage of provisional registration.

It is important to understand the university’s system of provisional registration and to see it in context. The system was introduced at the UFS a few years ago to assist these students to participate fully in all student and campus activities, especially their academic programme, as any other registered student.

Students who usually make use of this opportunity are those who do not qualify for funding from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), as they do not meet either the academic criteria (passing at least 50% of the modules taken in the previous year) or the financial threshold set by NSFAS (deemed to be in a category that they can afford to fund their studies), or were for some reason not able to secure sufficient funds to register at the beginning of the year. These students are allowed to register provisionally and to make payments of outstanding debt, as well as their first payment towards the 2018 academic year by March 31.

For 2018, a debt threshold of R15 000 was set. This means that any student who had an outstanding debt of up to R15 000 was allowed to register with a minimum of R1 900 as a first payment in case of nonresident students, and R6 750 for residential students.

This was arrived at as a consensus decision between the student representative council (SRC) and the executive management.

In the period between registration and the cut-off date for provisional registration (March 31), students are expected to honour the payment of the previous year’s outstanding debt of R15 000, as well as the balance of the outstanding first amount payable towards their 2018 student account.

As part of its pro-poor approach and in addition to finding financial solutions, UFS annually approaches various sponsors to fund students, in addition to using its own funds ring-fenced for this purpose.

The university’s financial appeals committee, which was established in 2018, considers appeals from students on a case-by-case basis based on their personal circumstances. The main criteria used in considering appeals have been academic merit and whether the student was a final-year first-degree student. Two representatives of the SRC are full members of the committee.

In the last appeals committee meeting, it was agreed to set the threshold for the previous years’ outstanding debt as well as the first payment towards 2018 at R7 500, which enabled many students to become fully registered for 2018. A total of 3 725 students applied for provisional registration.

To date, the committee has declined the appeals of only 60 students; the main reason in most cases has been poor academic performance. In some cases, the declared family income has been in the high region of R400 000 to R1 000 000.

About 500 students did not appeal, although some will be covered by the debt threshold of R7 500.

The ultimate responsibility of not only the UFS but also of universities across the country remains to ensure the responsible management of our growing student debt. — Executive management, University of the Free State

Executive management, University of the Free State

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