Varsities help with debt, but each in its own way
Sasco, ANC top six agree in principle that universities should not exclude students with debt from registering
Some universities are allowing students with outstanding debt to register, but others are insisting a portion of it be settled first.
This comes in the wake of a call by the SA Students Congress (Sasco) for a shutdown of the country’s 26 universities on Monday.
Sasco’s instruction to its structures to bring teaching and learning to a halt comes after a meeting with the ANC’s top six, which began on Friday and is due to resume on Monday. Both sides agreed in principle that universities should not exclude students with historical debt from registering for the 2021 academic year.
The debt owed to the 26 institutions by students is about R10bn, which includes R1.6bn owed to the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and R1bn to Johannesburg’s Wits university, according to figures supplied to Business Day.
Wits University’s vice-chancellor, Prof Zeblon Vilakazi, said: “The issue of student funding is a national, system-wide issue, which Wits cannot solve alone. The state and other social actors have a critical role to play in resolving this crisis.”
He said the university will endeavour to register any student who is performing well, but will not assist those who have been failing for years.
“It’s important that we give other talented students coming through with matric a chance. That I am not going to compromise on.”
Wits has so far registered 35,841 out of 37,500 students.
Vilakazi said if Wits wiped out its historical debt, it would become bankrupt.
“Debt is never waived; you manage debt.”
The university has assisted about 750 of the 1,200 students who requested financial assistance from the Wits Hardship Fund.
Protesting students there took to the streets last week demanding those with historical debt be allowed to register.
A bystander, Mthokozisi Ntumba, 35, was struck in the crossfire while leaving a clinic in Braamfontein after police fired rubber bullets to disperse protesters.
Stellenbosch University is in close contact with student leaders on issues pertaining to student funding and to address, where possible, issues at hand.University spokesperson Martin VIljoen
North West University (NWU) spokesperson Louis Jacobs said students with outstanding debt are not allowed to register unless they make acceptable arrangements to repay it.
“Priority is given to academically deserving students.”
About 11,732 students owe R194m, but the figure does not include students already handed over to lawyers.
University of Pretoria (UP) spokesperson Rikus Delport said the amount required to be paid up front before registration by students who owed money had been reduced from 50% of the outstanding balance to 40%.
“These students are required to enter into a financial arrangement for the remainder of the outstanding balance. This will only apply to the 2021 year.”
Lacea Loader, spokesperson for the University of the Free State (UFS), said students with outstanding debt of up to R20,000, who are not receiving financial aid from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), will be allowed to register provisionally by paying R2,050 if they are not hostel students and R7,290 if they are living in residence.
She said all non-NSFAS final-year students with outstanding debt of up to R25,000 may register provisionally.
Stellenbosch University (SU) spokesperson Martin Viljoen said returning students with confirmation of funding in the form of a bursary or loan will be allowed to register if their confirmed funding exceeds their debt for the previous year.
“Stellenbosch University is in close contact with student leaders on issues pertaining to student funding and to address, where possible, issues at hand.”
Viljoen said an ad hoc team has been activated to assist students with debt on a one-to-one basis.
Alan Khan, spokesperson for the Durban University of Technology (DUT), confirmed that all returning and qualifying NSFAS-funded students will be “unblocked”, even if they have outstanding debt because of non-payment by NSFAS
Normah Zondo, the acting executive director for corporate relations at UKZN, said students who are fully funded by NSFAS but are carrying debt not covered by their funders, will receive financial clearance after submitting a completed acknowledgment of debt form.
“The university has implemented financial clearance concessions that effectively ensure no student is required to pay 100% of their debt in full prior to registration.”
The University of the Western Cape (UWC) is among a few institutions that have granted financial clearance to students with historical debt to register for the 2021 academic year.
UWC spokesperson Gasant Abarder said all historical debt will be carried over into the 2021 academic year.
“Students are required to sign an acknowledgment of debt form and submit a payment plan by mid-April.”
The council of the University of Cape Town (UCT) on Saturday approved a proposal by the executive for students with historical debt to be allowed to register this year.
UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said the student registration fee block for 2020 debt will be lifted with immediate effect.
“The lifting of the fee block does not extinguish the existing debt. Council also resolved that UCT will make every effort to support students in the process of servicing their debt,” he said.
Zandile Mbabela, spokesperson for Nelson Mandela University (NMU) in Port Elizabeth, said provision has been made for the rollover of student debt and a down-payment exemption.
“This enables a student to proceed to registration without making the upfront payment upon signing of an acknowledgment of debt form.”
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