The funding struggle is real

My name is Tebogo Langa* I am studying  a bachelor of Accounting and I am in my second year.

What happened was, I have, I had an outstanding fee of R19 433 and because I wrote a deferred exam in January automatically my NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme) application for this year was declined, so I was told. I went to the SRC to find out if they can’t help me register because that was my main objective coming back to school this year.

There is a particular gentleman that promised that he would help, he even spoke to my brother last week Wednesday and said that he will meet Fees Office to ensure that by Friday I am registered. So on Thursday, the day after, I think the 4th of February, I call him he doesn’t answer his phone, it goes straight to voicemail.

So I call my brother and tell him that “listen, faculty has given me until the 8th as the last day to register, if not then I’m not gonna be able to come back to school.” So he had to take a loan to pay the outstanding fee, a loan of R20 000, and that’s how I managed to register.

I lost both my parents. I am from a family of five kids. My eldest brother, he is the one who actually takes care of us, he is a Metro Police, he works for JMPD, so that’s how he managed to get the loan coz he has a payslip, he qualified for it. But repaying it means that his family and our family are now having to do some financial adjustments and what seems like basic essential food to a lot of people to us is like luxury. From that we also need to cut down to ensure that he doesn’t go into further debt. I am the only one in the family to go to varsity.

I wasn’t [on Financial Aid] last year. I applied for it but they said my application papers got lost in the system. That’s why I didn’t have funding last year. But the year before I did have NSFAS.

I had to pay registration fee last year by myself, after paying it they said that all the appeal decisions would be out in March. And when they were out, in their system I basically hadn’t applied because they didn’t have my supporting documents. So throughout last year I have been contacting higher departments, I’ve got emails I can send them to you. I’ve got emails stating that I’ve been tryna find funding but when they come back into the school and they find out my financial standing, whether I qualify for NSFAS or not, they say they can’t help me because I’m not a NSFAS student. But they didn’t look into the fact whether I qualify for it or not but the fact that the system says I didn’t apply, they couldn’t help me.

I have appealed the NSFAS decision because they declined my application because I wrote a deferred, but the appeal will only be answered on the 31st of March so I think then will I know which way to go, but if the appeal is unsuccessful I don’t know how

I am going to pay this year’s fees.

I stay in Alexandra so I travel to and from school. I have never stayed at res before because when I had NSFAS I didn’t want to pay a bigger bill, but now that the years are going by and the workload is getting tougher its actually exhausting travelling, spending over an hour on the road and not having to stay on campus longer because of transportation so you are actually limited as to what you can and cannot do on campus.

I think the one thing I have learnt from working with the SRC in particular is, I know they’re working with a lot of people but can they not make promises that they cannot fulfill because had my brother not gone and took out this loan I wouldn’t be a student right now.

I know people who owed up to R60 000 from last year alone, those kinds of people can’t get that sort of money right now. I mean if the bank were to give you a loan of R60 000 they’d need actual property as surety, and say the parents fail to pay [the loan] back they now need to sell the only thing that they have, their only home.”

*As told to Zimasa Mpemnyama

*Names have been changed

Miscellaneous money mysteries

Emails and text messages flood student inboxes with messages from the Wits Fees Office, marked   “Student bill statement” – yet students still feel their communications are not adequate.

The problem is not that there is insufficient communication, claim students, but rather that important information is either too vague or not communicated to students at all.

Tumelo Munzhelele, 4th year Chemical Engineering, said she regularly found charges she didn’t understand. “They’ll say things like miscellaneous charges. Like, what does that mean?”

Student fees manager, Daya Veerasamy, said communication happened through various channels so students could check the charges and payments on their statements. “If students have issues, they can come to us and we will assist them.”

However, communication ceases as soon as the student’s fees are paid – even if the university owes them money.

Wits might owe you

Nokuthula Manyathi, a Wits Vuvuzela journalist, said she stopped checking her fee statements in June after she no longer received email notifications from the fees office. She felt this was an indication that her bursary had paid her fees in full.

But the bursary had in fact paid the university a sizeable surplus, which Manyathi was not notified of.  It was only through a reconciliation statement from her bursar that she realised there was an inconsistency.

“Students should know when they’ve paid and even when they’ve overpaid,” Veerasamy said.

Former Witsie, Palesa Thanjekwayo, was in her third year when she made amendments to her course.  She made the amendments before the stipulated deadline, which meant she would not incur any charges.

About two months later, the student checked her fee statement and found charges listed as cancellation fees. “I went to the fees office and asked them what the charges were for since I had amended in time. I thought it was a mistake.”

Veerasamy explained that faculties often sent through notice of course changes long after the deadline. This meant the fees office had no idea whether the student had amended before the deadline or not, meaning students were almost inevitably charged.

The mystery cancellation charges

Thanjekwayo did not understand why the fees office had kept quiet about the inevitability of charges being placed on the statement.  “They kept it secret. Now that I think about it, there were probably more wrong charges that they kept quiet about and I paid for.”

Veerasamy said the onus was on students to check their statements and speak to their faculties after registration or amending courses.