TUT shut as standoff goes on

Student leaders at the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) are accusing the university of shunning its responsibilities by wanting students who live in back rooms to enter into lease agreements with their landlords.

The university announced on Wednesday the indefinite shutdown of its campuses after student protests over meal allowances and the shortage of accommodation. It is the second shutdown in a week — TUT suspended all activities at the end of February because of protests over the same issues.

President of the transitional student representative council (SRC), Dineo Hlagala, says students who are funded by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme and who live in back rooms are not getting their meal allowances because they do not have lease agreements with their landlords and therefore do not qualify for the allowances.

Hlagala says the department of higher education and training put the policy in place even though it is aware of the shortage of on-campus student accommodation. As a result, some students find themselves staying in off-campus accommodation that is not accredited by the university. As an immediate fix, the SRC suggests the university should approve the applications by people who want accreditation to provide off-campus accommodation.

The university is pushing for students studying on campuses in townships such as Ga-Rankuwa and Soshanguve and staying in back rooms to enter into lease agreements with their landlords in order to qualify for meal allowances.

Hlagala says this won’t solve the problem. The leases will leave students stuck between their landlords and the university, with neither side helping them.

“Landlords are not going to account to the university when students have challenges with them. And when students come to the university with their problems, the university is going to say, ‘You have a lease contract with your landlord’.”

Hlangala says students staying in back rooms receive little support from the university. They also do not have the same facilities as students living in on-campus residences and in accredited off-campus residences. For example, these students are provided with security and are bused from the campus to their residences. Students staying in back rooms have to walk home, often at night after classes, and are prey to crime.

Lunga Ngqengelele, the spokesperson for the higher education department, says it acknowledges the shortage of on-campus and accredited off-campus accommodation and allows students to find their own accommodation and enter into a rental agreement for non-accredited accommodation. But they must produce a lease agreement and rental amount to qualify for the meal allowances. This helps to stop the scheme from being abused. “You have people who are staying at home but claiming that they are staying in back rooms.”

TUT had not responded to questions at the time of publication.

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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