NSFAS: The enigma of the “missing middle” confounds the university funding body
The access to higher education webinar in a post-covid South Africa discussed the future of higher education and interventions into funding policy.
The access to higher education webinar in a post-covid South Africa discussed the future of higher education and interventions into funding policy.
Students who have been squatting on campus and in libraries have finally been placed in permanent accommodation. (more…)
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.
The Wits Student Representative Council (SRC) has reached the R1-million target but the campaign to register financially needy students will continue, Sheera Kalla, SRC deputy president told Wits Vuvuzela today.
After an “overwhelming week” of donations, the Wits SRC reached its R1-million target today through a combination of contributions and pledges. However, the SRC is set to continue raising funds since that R1-million is not enough to cover all 2 788 students who did not receive National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) funds.
Kalla said the R1-million would only cover the registration fees of about 100 students. The SRC said it would “intensify” its efforts to raise funds after the success of the “One Million One Month” campaign.
“A million means we’ll help 100 students’ lives but at the same time you want to change more students and you want to say you did it in a responsible way,” Kalla said.
While the initial R1-million target was reached, most of the money was committed as pledges and is not yet in the bank.
“We’ll have to allocate the funds then we can really say we have reached our goal because students are getting registered,” Kalla said.
The SRC still needs to come up with a criteria on how they will allocate the funds fairly and responsibly. Kalla said they are considering first helping students who performed well academically and then helping third-year students because they will be finishing their degrees.
“This weekend we will have to sit down and decide because we want the funds to get to students as soon as possible,” Kalla told Wits Vuvuzela.
After the students have been registered they will have to take responsibility of paying for the rest of their fees. Though Kalla said the SRC will try to help where they can.
“Students also need to come to the table and try and do their best to get funding because you will now be registered and will have until the end of the year to pay your fees. So it’s going to be a collective effort by students and by the SRC,” Kalla said.
The money that will keep on coming in after R1-million will go to the humanitarian fund.
“The purpose of the humanitarian fund is not to fund student fees, it’s to fund things like outstanding payments that stop you from graduating, its upfront payment fees, emergency things, food, necessities … not pay your entire fees,” Kalla told Wits Vuvuzela.
The Wits SRC is now urging the people who have pledged to go to the bank and send the money quickly. According to Kalla if students are not registered in time they will not be able to do after the end of the month.
“The most important message is that even if we have reached the R1-million that was our target, that was not our goal, our goal is to change as many student lives as possible, a million is just a drop in the ocean,” Kalla said.
After a thirty minute wait outside the auditorium – students elbowed their way into their seats, with some occupying vacant spaces along the walkway using their thighs as tables.
An estimated 380 International Relations students were crammed into the confined space of West Campus’ Science Stadium.
“We are down to 380 now … 60 of them haven’t registered because the NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme) didn’t come through,” said head tutor and Masters student Patricia Muauka.
Muauka, who was handing out course packs to the first years with the help of first-year lecturer Christopher Williams, confirmed that overcrowded classrooms are an issue, describing the administrative duties as “easier to manage… after years of practice and experience.”
Lecturer Christopher Williams laments on the sizeable classrooms as having “a lot of administrative duties”. Williams, who started working at the department last year, said: “In the United States. I taught much smaller courses and so it’s harder to teach because you cannot interact with students the same way”.
Dr David Hornsby senior lecturer in International Relations agrees that overcrowding has a huge impact on teaching saying “it can really affect whether or not the learning and interaction environment is a safe space.’’
He mentions the difficulty involved in engaging large classrooms with lecture material saying that “lecturers design their courses for a particular number of students” suggesting that if there is a dramatic increase in these numbers it can significantly affect the approaches to learning.
BA Law student Rachel Jambo says the case is not only in International Relations lectures, but similar cases can be found in Psychology and Sociology classes. “We get over 300 people in here and some are sitting in the aisles and some are standing”.
Jambo described the overcrowding as “uncomfortable” referring to the lack of ventilation in Senate Houses’ SH6 and SH5 lecture rooms.
First-year student Simpiwe Maseko however does not seem to be affected by the large classrooms saying that interaction with lectures has not been affected by the large classrooms, but cannot be certain because “it’s still like the beginning”.
She is however confident lecturers are “paying attention to every student…going to great lengths to ensure that everybody is on the same page”.
Hornsby advises that the university’s enrolment and registration process needs to be directed by the size of venues. “We cannot register more people for a course than caps allow. As the university moves to an online registration system –this problem should be addressed.”
Muauka confirmed that there will be 18 tutorial groups but remains uncertain on the number of tutors available to tutor these classrooms “We are holding thumbs that we have enough tutors this year.”
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Four of the 27 University of Johannesburg students arrested for protesting over financial aid have been prevented from registering for classes this year.
Last month, the students, dubbed the “UJ27” were arrested for protesting against a shortage of funding from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NFSAS).[pullquote align=”right”] “The university would not let the four unregistered students onto the campus without an official escort.”[/pullquote]
The students were arrested and released with a warning after they appeared in the Newlands Magistrate’s Court in Johannesburg. Twenty of the students were then suspended by UJ. Among the 20 students were the chairperson and secretary of the UJ SA Students Congress (Sasco).
Prevented from registering
Last Friday, the suspended students won a court order forcing the university to allow them to register. However, four were still prevented from registering on Monday.
Shira’h Jeenah, chairperson of UJ Sasco and one of the four students prevented from registering told Wits Vuvuzela the university would not let the four unregistered students onto the campus without an official escort.
However, on Monday when the students came to register the security escort had not been provided by UJ Campus Protection and so the students could not register.
“The university has said that we are not allowed on campus if we do not have classes,” said Jeenah. He added that the students have had to submit their timetables into campus protection so they may be escorted to their classes and off campus.
“We’re only allowed to be on campus 15 minutes before class and 15 minutes after,” said Jeenah.
However, according to Jeenah, the university has also accused UJ Sasco of violating the court order because the students were picketing when the court order was presented to the university administration.
The verdict awaits
On Monday afternoon the unregistered students were outside the Kingsway campus in Auckland Park waiting to hear if their attorney was able to reach an agreement with the university to allow them to register.[pullquote] “They [UJ] should be celebrating that their students are raising critical matters”[/pullquote]
Wits Vuvuzela contacted the university for comment but has not yet received a response.
Tebogo Thotela, deputy-secretary of Sasco Gauteng, criticised the suspension of the students and the charges they are facing.
“They [UJ] should be celebrating that their students are raising critical matters”, said Thotela.
Students left financially desperate
The suspension of the UJ students was part of a spate of nationwide protests against the lack of funds from NSFAS that had left many students financially desperate and unable to continue with their studies.
In addition to UJ, the government fund had come under fire from the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), the Durban University of Technology (DUT), and UJ for being unable to meet the financial requirements of the universities.
Thotela said that NSFAS was in arrears of R200-million with UJ and a national shortage of R 2-billion. While Higher Education minister Blade Nzimande subsequently committed R1-billion to the fund, this may not be enough to cover the financial shortages between the universities and NSFAS.[pullquote align=”right”]”The fund is struggling of keeping up with the needs of South African students.”[/pullquote]
Wits NFSAS continues to fund students
Amidst all the protests at other universities, Wits’ NSFAS office has continued to provide students with their financial grants. Thotela said that unlike TUT and UJ, only 15% of registered Wits students rely on the government fund.
Although NSFAS received an extra R 100-million to their fund which increased it from the previous year’s total of R 8. 2-billion, the fund is struggling of keeping up with the needs of South African students.
Thotela said that the issue lies in the inevitable increase in the intake of students each year. “We’re seeing kids from a working class background coming to university and the fees are increasing as well.”
Students are warned! If your fees are not paid by September 15, you will not be allowed to continue your Wits education.
Witsies with outstanding fees will be barred from the university until they settle their accounts. The fees department has sent emails, smses and letters informing students about the repercussions of unpaid fees.
Students who don’t meet the mid-month deadline will be denied access to the university, examination results will be withheld and legal action will be taken against students. The students will also be refused permission to re-register at Wits and will be refused “a certificate of good conduct without which you will be denied admission to any South African university.”
[pullquote]Witsies with outstanding fees will be barred from the university until they settle their accounts[/pullquote] Nthabiseng Molefe, 2nd year LLB student, said she received the warning letter on Monday. Her fees are paid in part by the National Students Financial Aid Scheme of South Africa (NSFAS) and her parents. She said she had signed her loan agreement with NSFAS more than a month ago, but the money did not reflected on her account.
“I went to the fees office and told them it is NSFAS’s fault but they said they can’t help me, I must make a plan,” she said.
Deputy vice chancellor, Prof Tawana Kupe, said blocking student cards was a “traditional technique” used by the university. He said blocked students were not expelled but were warned that they needed to attend to their fees. Wits SRC president Sibulele Mgudlwa said dozens of students had contacted him about these letters. He called the letters “intimidation” by the university against self-funding students behind on their fees.
Mgudlwa said the SRC would fight back and were prepared to “take to the streets like in 2009”, referring to large student protests against fees that year.