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In 2016 UP played host to many protests across its campuses. Perdeby spoke to various UP student structures on what 2017 could hold for students at UP.
What are the biggest fee issues students face in 2017?
Kwena Moloto (DASO TUKS): It’s the same issue that’s been around since 1994. In general, higher education is not easily accessible to the masses.
Henrico Barnard (TSC chairperson): All students who qualify for NSFAS are allowed to register (first years). If you had NSFAS [funding] last year, [and] you applied and signed the loan agreement form you will get NSFAS [funding] and are allowed to register. The only category at this stage that is still a problem is if your GPA is below 50 and you have historic debt [which is] the biggest challenge to get onto campus.
Renier Goosen (AfriForum Youth UP): Exactly the same [as 2016] in my opinion, nothing has changed. And further with regards to NSFAS, it’s worse actually because they have not paid the registration fee yet. The students are complaining that they can’t register and they can’t come onto campus, which is bad. But in sense of people being able to pay there is no improvement.
Maxwell Raphoto (SASCO member): It’s the same, but then given the fact NSFAS is not on campus it’s more problematic. Because now the university is distancing itself from accepting students without surity that NSFAS will cover those students... Last year when NSFAS was on campus the university would allow a certain amount of students to register but still NSFAS would not even cover those students, it would cover maybe 80%. So it’s quite problematic since the university doesn’t even have surety that first of all these students qualify for NSFAS and, number two that NSFAS will even cover these students.
The Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training (the Fees Commission) is set to release its final report in June 2017. What do you think this will achieve?
Moloto: DASO has made submissions to the fees commission; it’s very clear from the submissions we’ve made, from the engagements that we’ve had with them that it is a commission that is going to achieve nothing. They have extended the date in which they have said they would release the report, but it’s very clear that the ANC administration has no intention of providing any form of free higher education. They’ve had since 1994 and it’s not going to change in 2017.
Barnard: I’m not sure what to expect from that, we’ll have to wait and see. They are meeting with SRCs. We’ve already had two meetings...so the Department of Higher Education as well as NSFAS are opening communication towards the universities, so it’s not that they are only going on their own.
Goosen: Not familiar with the fees commission as such.
Raphoto: I don’t think so...I feel like the fee issue is such a broad and a bigger thing that [the Fees Commission] are trying to just down play it, if they create a dialogue things aren’t just going to happen.
In January, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said the Higher Education Sector can’t afford more protests. Do you agree with this statement?
Moloto: I would agree with that. I think that the target was universities in 2016 and I feel that it was misplaced. At the end of the day universities cannot provide free higher education, it is the role of national government and they felt little to no pressure to push for free higher education. The effects of FMF in 2016 were almost catastrophic. The academic year at many institutions almost didn’t continue, which would have led to tens of thousands of matriculants not being able to get into universities. Even if you look at the effects of FMF 2016 at UP, the fact that campus was shut down and we moved to online systems disadvantaged poor students, the very same students that FMF, DASO and SASCO have been fighting for. It is my hope that FMF recognises their errors in 2016 and that the target becomes National Government and that’s something DASO would support 100%.
Barnard: Yes, definitely. I think we are running a big problem losing quality in our education where the private sector is now becoming the go-to sector for education.
Goosen: Absolutely. Already so much damage has been done by that, with our image and our international programmes, people would no longer want to deal with us if that’s the image we are portraying.
Raphoto: I definitely agree, 100%.
National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) qualifying students in 2017 did not have to pay up front registration fees. Have you found that this made a difference?
Moloto: I think that it helps. Small victories are important. In terms of the goal of free higher education for the poor it’s not necessarily a victory, but for these single students it’s a victory. And as political organisations it’s important that while we focus on the bigger picture we don’t forget that we help one student at a time.
Barnard: Yes, I think so. The registration rate was quicker this year for the first years; it’s opened the doors of education for a lot of students by allowing them to register and then sort out their plans throughout the year, so it gives you that bit of a gap. The problem with that is at this stage there are 11 000 students at the university that have historic debt, and it’s not small amounts so the university must also find a way to keep them accountable even if it’s when they start working.
Goosen: If it’s only for a handful of people absolutely not.
Raphoto: I feel like it did help, to a certain extent... But then the key issue goes back to historic debt as well.
Is there anything your organisation is doing specifically for fees this year?
Moloto: DASO will be doing a lot of fundraising for students this year…and trying to get big businesses on board and to play a larger role in the funding of this generation.
Barnard: At this stage not yet, we’re still running around trying to get [students] registered, but how it usually works is you have a fund from last year which was accumulated by hiring [out] the piazza and stuff like that, so we do have a small budget to use towards the registration of students and so forth, which is the SRC study aid fund, so we will use that as operational funds to help the students as we can. But our fundraising will only start happening when our term starts getting on.
Goosen: We have AfriForum Helpende Hand which generally helps students who on merit can actually be able to come to university. If they can prove that they have the marks, we can provide the funding for them.
Raphoto: Every year SASCO has a Right to Learn campaign. The university is quite aware of SASCO’s Right to Learn campaign. It was funded before by management; they helped the organisation with accommodation as well as with food so that we can help students. In the Right to Learn campaign we help students broadly with everything. We had a relationship with management; students who historically had debt could register and a payment plan could be agreed upon between the two parties. So far we have an ongoing dialogue with SASCO nationally and NSFAS in Cape Town...But it’s so difficult compared to last year, you could actually hold a gun to management’s head and say listen I want you to register one, two, three students because NSFAS was here, but now you can’t do that.
EFFSC-UP did not respond to Perdeby’s questions at the time of going to print.