The deadline for students who signed the waiver form is fast approaching, students have until March 31 to sort out their financial arrangements with the university .
The nearly 9 000 students who signed a contract to waive their registration fee at the beginning of the year have less than a month to pay their debt of R 9340.
Students who had provisional offers for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) funding for 2016, those with external bursaries and those with a Wits University scholarship did not have to make upfront payments for registration at the beginning of this year.
Instead, students who didn’t have adequate funding at the beginning of the year signed an Acknowledgement of Debt (AOD) form which stated that they are entering into an arrangement for the payment of the upfront fee as well any interest from the date of the signature.
Some of the original signatories of the acknowledgement of debt have since been helped and funded by the SRC’s #Access Campaign and some have since appealed and received approval for NSFAS.
But many students have not been so lucky.
“I’m thinking of deregistering because there is nothing I can do,” says Onkarabile Mokoto, a returning third-year student who signed the contract to waive his registration at the beginning of this year.
Mokoto was previously studying at Wits towards a Bachelor of Education degree from 2008. The young man from Kagiso, in Mogale City on the west of Johannesburg, was previously able to afford his tuition through the NSFAS and the Gauteng Department of Education bursary. He dropped out of university in 2010 due to “personal reasons.”
But Mokoto did not inform his faculty that he would not be continuing with the rest of the academic calendar for 2010 and his marks for that year resulted in academic exclusion.
“Because of lack of knowledge I didn’t know I was supposed to do that [deregister].”
Due to his previous record of exclusion NSFAS rejected his application for funding for 2016 even though he does qualify for NSFAS. With the help of the SRC, Mokoto went through the appeals process but his appeal was also rejected in mid-February. He has since been left with no option but to deregister. Mokoto says although the SRC were initially helping him to secure funding, in the end there was not much that SRC did for his cause.
“They told me to focus on my studies and try to look for other funds.” Mokoto says.
According to a statement put out by the university in January, students who cannot pay registration in full by March 31 should notify the university by completing and concluding an AOD before the end of March.
Provided a student has done that, and fulfils their obligations as set out in the AOD, they will not be charged additional interest on any amounts outstanding in respect of tuition fees.
According to the fees office, all students who have not settled their accounts by March 31 are legible to pay a 1.3% interest on their balance, whether they have signed the AOD or not.
But for students like Mokoto who haven’t been able to secure funds the situation looks dire. He says he plans to deregister because he cannot pay the registration, and cannot afford his textbooks. Mokoto told Wits Vuvuzela that even as he signed the waiver he had no idea of where to get the money to pay his fees.
Vice chancellor Adam Habib told Wits Vuvuzela that he was concerned that if fees are not paid, the university will not be able to keep the lights on. “I wish I didn’t have to charge fees,” says Habib.
Habib said the university was underfunded by the state, with only R1.4-billion in funding coming from the government while it costs R3.4-billion to operate the university.
Habib said that those students who signed an acknowledgement of debt saying that they were going to have the money by the March 31 have to pay, and if they can’t, it means they signed the form under misleading conditions.
According to the SRC’s general secretary, Fasiha Hassan, the university cannot deregister students due to financial exclusion. Only students can deregister themselves.
“No student can be deregistered unless you are academically excluded,” says Hassan.