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Fri May 27 22:10:01 SAST 2016

At their Wits' end

KATHARINE CHILD, SIPHO MASOMBUKA, SHENAAZ JAMAL, NIVASHNI NAIR and FARREN COLLINS | 12 January, 2016 06:15
NO MONEY: Student registration at Wits University was suspended following protests yesterday. The protests followed last year's demonstrations against fee increments for this year. Following the action, President Jacob Zuma announced there would be no increase in fees this year
Image by: Moeletsi Mabe

Lectures are yet to begin at universities but already student protests have brought campus activities to a halt.

On-campus registration was due to begin at Wits University yesterday but demonstrations led to a shutdown.

The students were demanding, among other things, the scrapping of registration fees.

Management has allowed students to register without paying the R9000 fee immediately - giving them until March to do so.

Those unable to pay by March have to present an affidavit indicating their difficulties.

The university has undertaken to find ways to assist struggling students, including cancelling students' debt.

But the concessions did little to quell the protests by a group calling itself #FeesMustFall, which vowed it would not stop its demonstrations until education was free and all "historic debt" was cancelled.

Registration at Unisa's Pretoria campus was also disrupted when members of the #OutsourcingMustFall campaign protested.

The campaign had in November and December held mass meetings that resolved to support "outsourced workers".

The group's spokesman, Austin Mofyoa, said the workers would disrupt the registration process and lectures should their demands not be met.

As students and workers protested on the two campuses yesterday, Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande announced further financial support for students in need.

The minister said R10-billion had been set aside for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.

He added that the government had committed a further R6.9-billion to support university education. This includes the R2.33-billion allocated to assist universities to keep fees at last year's rates.

Wits Vice-Chancellor Adam Habib warned that if financial burdens and demands on universities continued, the quality of South Africa's universities would be at stake and could collapse.

Habib said the university could not waive the "historic debt" of R109-million without damaging the quality of education at Wits.

While the university's academic programme is unlikely to be affected by the current concessions, a shortfall of R25-million means renovations of buildings will be delayed and the upgrading of the ICT system will be postponed.

"What we need student leaders to understand as part of their job is to look after the higher education system. What they are doing is destroying the futures of their own children. If universities collapse, the middle class will [take their children] abroad. It is the poor who won't be able to study. This will further entrench inequality."

He said preventing students from registering was "problematic".

"Online registration is taking place but [those] who can't do online registration and need to register at the university are the poorest of the poor."

A student who was prevented from entering the Wits University fee office said she was angry.

"What are we supposed to do now? They are fighting about getting education but they are stopping people from getting an education."

Nzimande called on students not to miss out on competitive university spaces beacuse of the protest actions.

The minister is expected to meet student leaders on Thursday.

  • Deferred exams at the University of Cape Town and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology began yesterday without any disruptions.

CPUT management said it was confident it had measures in place to ensure exams were undisturbed.

"We have increased security presence at all other venues, where assessments will take place. The South African Police Service and metro police will also be assisting us to maintain order," said Vice-Chancellor Dr Prins Nevhutalu.

More than 5 000 students were expected to sit for the UCT exams. The University of the Western Cape started its deferred exams on Wednesday last week.

Exams were postponed at the end of last year during #FeesMustFall protests.

Commenting on its funding, UCT said it expected to have to come up with 20% of the shortfall.

The university will also use other measures, including reducing the wage bill and cutting capital projects, to raise funds.

The council of Stellenbosch University decided to meet last year's shortfall from discretionary council funds.

UWC and CPUT said they were still investigating ways to deal with the shortfall.

Registration in Western Cape universities will open next month, with the exception of Stellenbosch University, where online self-registration opens on Thursday, and UWC, which started its registration process yesterday.

Registration began without incident at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, where students are expected to pay an upfront fee of R3750 for registration.

Those requiring accommodation will have to pay R2,750 more.

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