UFS to allow students to register if they owe less than R20,000

University of the Free State plans on enrolling more than 8,200 first-year students this academic year

15 March 2021 - 16:08 By mpumzi zuzile
Students close down the streets of Braamfontein as they fight for the clearance of historical debt for students, among other demands.
Students close down the streets of Braamfontein as they fight for the clearance of historical debt for students, among other demands.
Image: Alaister Russell

Even though the University of Free State (UFS) has more than R300m in outstanding debt, the institution has agreed to allow students who owe less than R20,000 to register.

Rector and vice-chancellor Prof Francis Petersen made the announcement at the weekend.

Speaking during a media briefing, Petersen said the university has had a number of engagements with the SRC and has agreed that non-NSFAS students who owe less than R20,000 will be allowed to register.

He said 40% to 43% of first-years had been registered thus far, and with the additional funding made available by the government last week he hoped that more first-year students would be registered. Peterson said he expected that the university would register more than 8,200 first-year students.

He said the university has as a precaution hired private security personnel to augment the protection services at the university.

We opted for private security rather than have armed police inside the institution ... with this we are able to have control of the security,” he explained.

This comes as a number of universities have joined a national lockdown of universities around the registration of needy students. Last week a bystander, Mthokozisi Ntumba, died after being allegedly shot by police on the sidelines of a Wits University protest.

Meanwhile, University of Cape Town (UCT) council chair Babalwa Ngonyama said in a statement that the university was deeply concerned about the crisis in the higher education sector, which has been compounded by the pandemic as well as overall budget constraints.

“The university believes that there is a need for national consultation on the affect of these factors on the sector. There is also a need for a national action plan to address both the crisis and the future skills development needs of SA.”

Ngonyama said the council reaffirms the value of the right to protest — to do so lawfully and peacefully and without fear of reprisal.

She said the council called on all concerned, including the police, to exercise the necessary restraint.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc, compounding the many challenges that governments and institutions have had to face. Universities are not exempt, and the affect on staff and students has been profound. This is a time that calls for sensitivity, care and a humane approach to the funding crisis,” Ngonyama said.

“The funding crisis is a national crisis. No university can solve it on its own — the higher education sector urgently needs intervention from the government. We must put the students who are in desperate need of financial aid at the forefront of our thinking and planning, to support the future and sustainability of higher education in SA.”

She added that universities needed to work collaboratively to find creative and innovative solutions to the funding crisis. She said the UCT council remains committed to supporting all such efforts as it tries to ensure that academically eligible and deserving students are not denied the opportunity to study because of the lack of funding.

Ngonyama said the council had agreed that:

  • With immediate effect the student registration fee block in respect of 2020 debt will be lifted for South African students and students from the rest of Africa. This applies to both undergraduate and postgraduate students, excluding students from the UCT Graduate School of Business. The lifting of the fee block does not extinguish the existing debt.

  • UCT will make every effort to support students in the process of servicing their debt, and will make R30m available to support criterion-based debt appeals for both undergraduate and postgraduate students.

  • The UCT executive will engage stakeholders across the higher education sector to take up a sectorial approach to the minister of higher education, science and innovation to work towards a long-term solution to the funding crisis in the sector.

UCT’s 100UP programme has launched a campaign to raise funds to support its social responsibility initiative. The programme, which was launched some 10 years ago, works to expose students from disadvantaged communities to life after high school.

The programme has worked with more than 2,500 students from various disadvantaged communities across Cape Town, helping them to gain exposure to UCT.

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