GEORGE NEWS - Everyone was waiting with bated breath on Monday for the national shutdown called for by the South African Union of Students (SAUS), but few universities were affected.
The SAUS leadership wanted every public university to shut down till they received answers from the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Dr Blade Nzimande.
Milisa Piko, communications manager at Nelson Mandela University George Campus, said the campus was not affected by the call for a national shutdown. "There are ongoing engagements between management and student leadership around issues or challenges that arise, with a view to address them to ensure a smooth transition into the academic year."
Registration is currently underway, with well over 8 000 institutionally returning students who have successfully enrolled. "This figure is set to increase as more students return and registration for first-year students opens on Wednesday 29 January," Piko added.
The shutdown was called over a number of matters, with 12 demands made to Nzimande on 16 January.
The demands include the following:
- that all students with historical debt must be allowed to register at all universities and that such debt must be written off;
- that examination results, academic records and certificates will be issued to all students even if they owe money;
- that the national research fund (NRF) automatically provides funding to postgraduates who have previously been NSFAS beneficiaries;
- that the accreditation of student accommodation be revised to ensure that all deserving students receive places to stay;
- that free registration for all vulnerable, poor and missing middle students;
- that Unisa be included in NSFAS allowances;
- that a clear implementation plan be established for students' mental health, safety and security on campuses.
In a letter of response sent to SAUS on 26 January, Nzimande said the department has provided significant funding towards the eradication of historic debt for NSFAS-qualifying students. "...Close to R1-billion in historic debt relief for NSFAS-qualifying students were announced in 2018 by former minister Pandor." He also said that NSFAS students who carry debt from 2019 are allowed to register, provided they sign an acknowledgement of debt (AOD) at the institution to which they are returning.
Comment from SAUS is being awaited.
Nzimande's reply included the following points:
- Public funding for the university system is constrained and there is no possibility that the debt of students who are not NSFAS-qualifying can be eliminated by government.
- 2019 students should be able to access their academic records for the purpose of employment or further study, whether they owe the university money or not.
- The NRF has developed a new student-funding policy for implementation in 2021, which is pro-poor and focused on improving equity, success and access. "This policy is a direct response to Government's priority of supporting financially needy and academically able students and aligned to the policies of NSFAS."
The matter of accommodation is also being addressed with universities, said Nzimande. They want to ensure that all NSFAS-qualifying students are supported. "This is to ensure in the absence of fully accredited accommodation, NSFAS-qualifying students are able to access non-accredited accommodation, as long as the university has a registration and verification process in place."
If students' home address is far from the university campus and there is insufficient accredited accommodation, they can access single-use private accommodation with a formal lease agreement and receive an accommodation living allowance, providing it is in line with university policies. If students can stay at home, with a friend or relative or make their own arrangements, they will still receive a travel and living allowance.
All NSFAS-qualifying students are able to register at all 26 public universities without paying an upfront fee. Students not qualifying for NSFAS will have to pay that fee. The re-opening of NSFAS applications to new students was also addressed. Nzimande said NSFAS has a process in place to verify the application of students who are admitted for registration, but did not apply for the bursary. "If a student is admitted and has not applied for NSFAS funding, but identifies as a student who may qualify, they must sign the AOD to register while NSFAS verifies if that student is eligible for funding. Is is done on a case-to-case basis."
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