By Naledi Mashishi

Wits Education students protest against having to pay travel allowance upfront.

STUDENTS from the Wits School of Education shut down the Education Campus in Parktown on Tuesday and Wednesday in protest against changes to the funding process for travel allowances during the six weeks of teaching experience (TE).

In the past, the university gave education students cash as a travel allowance for when they went on teaching practice. However, in 2019 the university reduced the tuition fee and then added the travel allowance to the students’ fees.

Education Students’ Council (ESC) academic officer Musa Khumalo told Wits Vuvuzela that TE forms a necessary component of the PGCE degree and all four years of the Bachelor of Education (BEd) degree, and that the ESC had negotiated with the university in April 2018 to increase it to R1 500, as R1 000 was inadequate.

When TE came around in September, students were awarded R1 490, however, the university cautioned that as the additional R490 had come from a private donor, it was unsustainable and that a different solution had to be found.

Khumalo said that when the executive council of the School of Education met with the ESC in January 2019, they were informed that a TE allowance of R1 500 would be added to students’ fee statements. This meant that the university was only covering R1 000 with the reduced tuition fee, and that students would pay the additional R500.

“We gave the university three different models to fund the increment, one of which was doing away with unnecessary notes and redirecting those funds to the TE allowance. All of them were rejected,” Khumalo told Wits Vuvuzela. He said the new scheme disadvantaged self-funded students and those who received allowances only at the end of the year.

Representatives of the School’s executive management, including head of school Prof Felix Maringe, met with students on Wednesday in order to discuss a memorandum of demands that had been handed to the executive management on Tuesday afternoon. Maringe told students that the university was committed to ensuring that no student was disadvantaged and that it would take some time before a sustainable funding model could be implemented.

“The School of Education reduced the tuition fee from R4 770 to R3 770, making R1 000 available for TE, and we are still committed to sourcing the additional R500,” Maringe told Wits Vuvuzela. “As students on NSFAS and Funza Lushaka are capped, we will pay the top-up.”

“The university wanted to arrive at a sustainable solution to the TE allowance as we need money to be available without donor assistance, and decided that it had to be included as a fee item so that students would pay upfront and the money would be given back to them as their TE allowance,” Maringe said.

In a final meeting with the protesters on Wednesday afternoon, Maringe told the crowd of students gathered on the Education Campus lawns that the School would commit to finding an additional R250 per student to subsidise first-year BEd students with no additional funding, and R500 per student from second year onwards, and PGCE students with no additional funding, to cover the R500 increase in the TE allowance. Maringe implored students to be patient, saying he still needed to call on relevant stakeholders to finalise funding.

One of the protesters, fourth-year BEd student Precious Banda, argued that the requirement for students to pay the remainder of the TE allowance is unfair.

“They know very well that we can’t pay this money and they are trying by all means to disadvantage us. We want clear answers from the university and we want them to reverse that fee.”

Protesting students had disrupted lectures and blocked the main entrance to the Education Campus, preventing cars from entering and exiting the campus. When private security guards attempted to physically remove students from the roads, there were several scuffles that ensued between protesters and security guards. Wits Vuvuzela witnessed a male private security guard slapping a female student.

The protest action appears to have ended following management’s Wednesday afternoon concessions, with the ESC saying it was satisfied by Maringe’s response.


FEATURED PHOTO: Education head of school Prof Felix Maringe addresses a crowd of protesting students at Wits Education Campus on February 27.

Photo: Naledi Mashishi