The Academic Staff Association of Wits University’s President Precious Biyila said while she welcomes the R7 bn injection to assist desperate students there were still numerous questions on the long-term sustainability of the higher education sector.
A group of Wits University students staging a small demonstration at Solomon Mahlangu House on 5 February 2019. Picture: Sethembiso Zulu/Eyewitness News.
JOHANNESBURG – While some universities have agreed to register students despite their unpaid debt, Wits employees and the Student Representative Council (SRC) say this was only a partial victory.
Academic staff held a demonstration at the university on Thursday, calling for the institution to find a lasting solution to its funding crisis.
The department of higher education has re-allocated R7 billion back to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) to allow first-year students to register after it was left short of funds due to budget cuts.
It has also been agreed to allow more than 600,000 students who were on the verge of financial exclusion to register.
This follows several weeks of heated student protests calling for Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande to address the funding and registration issues.
The Academic Staff Association of Wits University’s President Precious Biyila said while she welcomes the R7 billion injection to assist desperate students there were still numerous questions on the long-term sustainability of the higher education sector.
“We shouldn’t be too excited about that; we need to be asking where is the R7 billion coming from and what’s going to be in place next year. Is the minister of education ever going to talk to academics and other people at universities that are not affiliated to political formations?”
Meanwhile, SRC President Mpendulo Mfeka said goverment was merely putting a band-aid over a bullet wound.
The department of higher education remains resolute that it cannot afford to clear historic student debt owed to institutions amounting to nearly R10 billion.
“We will give you this, we will give you that – why did we have a protest in the first place when they could have done that without a protest? We can’t keep on doing the same thing over and over again.”
‘STUDENTS DON’T FAIL BECAUSE THEY ARE STUPID’
Minister Nzimande insists his department is committed to addressing the student funding crisis - along with any other concern over the 2021 academic year.
The national shutdown at universities across the country has been called off - after the department made concessions.
Nzimade has now wished students a productive, safe, and peaceful academic year following weeks of demonstrations over financial exclusion at institutions.
But Mfeka said government needs to take students seriously once and for all.
“We can’t, every year, protest for people to register. It’s dehumanising. There is no one who wants to come to the SRC office and say ‘I owe R20,000 and I can’t pay it’, there is no one who wants to come to the SRC office and say ‘I am homeless’ or ‘I am without food’. When I said students don’t fail because they are stupid, some students here fail because they don’t have a place to sleep.”