South African Students Congress

SASCO statement on Right to Learn Campaign Developments

16 January 2015

The South African Students’ Congress wishes to take this opportunity to brief students and the country about certain observations during this applications and registration period. Our structures are hard at work all over the country responding to the call of the Freedom Charter; the “The Doors of Learning and Culture Shall Be Open.”

Since the re-opening of our institutions of higher learning, we have already witnessed the gross impunity these institutions of higher learning treat the children of poor and working class. Some institutions have acted with utter disregard of some of the challenges facing disadvantaged students and have therefore refused them to plead their cases. For instance, it is a known fact that there was a Post Office Strike, but our universities have disregarded this fact with impunity. They have refused students, who had difficulty with their applications because of NSFAS, to physically visit the institutions. The so-called No-Walk-In policy is reactionary at best and racist at worst. Some poor students who have been accepted into our institutions are unable to proceed to register because their NSFAS documentation did not reach the institution in time, due to the strike. Universities have been insensitive and have excluded these students. The argument of online application is in fact a method of excluding the poorest of the poor.

The bloated story of applications

A lot has been said about universities receiving hundreds of thousands of applications and yet having very limited spaces. Firstly, we know that many of these applications were duplicate applications, some students who applied did not succeed in their matric, and others do not meet the minimum point requirements. So we ask ourselves what is the fuss all about. But as SASCO we know that universities want to paint this picture in order to gain public sympathy whilst they exclude deserving and poor students.

Universities must be able to explain to South Africa, how many students who meet the minimum requirement applied, and how many of those were refused entry. The country deserves to know how many of those accepted are from disadvantaged backgrounds and how many are from the advantaged. What are the racial and gender patterns of enrolment in each institution. We were shocked when the Registrar of the University of Johannesburg, Professor Kinta Burger, failed to answer a question about the composition of the students that have been accepted, during a TV interview on SABC New Channel. This shows us that management of these institutions do not care of the patterns of enrolment in their institution; this is an indication of their attitude to transformation.

Our general view is that many students who are financially needy and meet the academic requirement will be excluded in the institutions. We are concerned that some of the online application processes have failed to be friendly to students. Students are unable to receive responses on their application or even make enquires due to failed online applications.

Notorious TVET/FETs Colleges and Registration fees

Some TVET/FET colleges are asking NSFAS students to pay registration fees. We warn these institutions to stop this reactionary practice otherwise we will be left with no option but to attend to them through mass struggles. The NSFAS policy prohibits colleges from charging registration fees from NSFAS students. We have met earlier in the year with NSFAS in Cape Town, they have made it clear to us that they have paid colleges 10% of their allocation to ensure that they have liquidity.

We will expose those colleges and their corrupt act against the poor. This in fact is an attempt to steal form poor people. We will also be pursing law enforcement to ensure that their looting of our people is stopped. This is cronyism, which has no space in the higher education and training system.

Registration fees at Universities

We are very concerned with the exorbitant registration fees that are charged by some of the universities in our country. There is no justification for students to be charged almost R30 000 as registration. We believe this is unjustifiable and should be viewed as an attempt to limit working class people. At UCT we know that they do this because Max Price has a mandate to preserve the institution for the elite. We are not surprised that the so-called “public intellectuals” such as Adam Habib who criticize the government for failure to deliver at every opportunity, are in fact the worst oppressors in our universities. He must explain to the nation together with Jonathan Jansen (who is out of the country at such a critical time), why they are preserving our institutions for the elite by charging such high registration fees.

Habib must explain to the NSFAS students of Wits who are unable to register now because their funds have not been paid, how they must register. We are aware that it was the university that over claimed at yet it displaces the debt caused by itself on poor students. This is an indictment on Habib and tells us a lot about his contribution to nation building.

Student Capping

SASCO notes that the Department of Higher Education has increased opportunities for university access to first entry students from 197 946 in 2014 to 204 522 in 2015. This means 6576 more students than last year can have access to our universities. In as much as we welcome that more students will have access to opportunities, this fall way short of the backlog we have as a nation. We would have been much more encouraged with an increase in the tens of thousands since our only 204 522 students will enter universities out of 317 441 who passed with Bachelor/Diploma in the 2014 matric class, this is not to mention those who were denied entry in previous years.

We welcome the almost doubling of Engineering and Business Studies opportunities in FETs from 23 000 to 44 000. We however would like a distinction to be made between the Engineering and the Business Studies in our FET/TVET Colleges. Our concern is that many of the Business Studies courses mirror the programs of universities, so as to suggest that those who don’t qualify in universities must go to FET/TVETs for such courses. We want our FET/TVET to deal with vocational education and training exclusively and not to be treated as mini-universities. SASCO demands that Engineering opportunities be increased in the FET/TVET colleges radically and resources and teaching capacity to also be radically deployed.

In as much as we blame universities for refusing to increase the number of students they enroll, government must also take responsibility for failing to meet regional and international standards in the funding of higher education as a function of GDP. Our government is responsible for capping student enrollment, due to its low funding of higher education and training. SASCO will be taking up this campaign of increased funding of higher education more radically with government. This does not however justify, as we have heard in public discourse, the exorbitant fee increases in our universities.

SASCO calls on President Zuma to put his money where his month is, by increasing funding of higher education to at least be above the African average, as a step towards radical socio-economic transformation. The President when he delivered on behalf of the ANC, the January 8 statement, bemoaned the unjustified university fee increments. We welcome the Presidents and indeed the ANC’s concern, at the same time we believe that the solution largely lays with the state.

We call upon the Minister to speed up the process of the introduction of a new funding model, which will be biased to transformation. We will mobilize students to support the speedy introduction of the funding model including our call for fee capping.

Financial and Academic Exclusion

There is no dustbin for student in South Africa, more especially with the nature of the challenges our country faces. SASCO sends a stern warning to university NOT to exclude students financially and academically. We warn universities that such actions will leave us with little option but to wage popular struggles. Universities must tell us where should students, who do not afford the high cost of higher education, go? Financially excluding these students is condemning them to poverty, mass unemployment, and debt they can never repay.

SASCO condemns universities that still refuse student who owe their RIGHT to graduate. We condemn the use of withholding results as leverage for students to pay. We are concerned that reactionary universities refuse even to confirm completion of qualified student to potential employer and the student. This is working against the national interest.

SASCO rejects academic exclusion, universities need to self introspect, when student don’t do well, where is the academic support, what is the responsibility of the lecturer? We have never heard of a case where a lecturer is fired because his/her class continuously fails. In fact certain lectures cap student success in order to ensure that certain professions remain lily white, such as Accounting and Law to name a few. We have never heard of nay action taken against these lecturers. Yet universities at the slightest provocation, never hesitate to exclude students.

Universities are public entities; they have a mandate to the people of South Africa, and not to some international donors, or professional bodies. Universities musty contribute to nation building, development and growth. These institutions are not the private property of Vice Chancellor and lily white Senates, they belong to the people of South Africa.

NSFAS Funding

SASCO notes the R9.5 Billion budget of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme. We can never over emphasize the inadequacies in the scheme, and yet we welcome increases in the budget particularly over the last five years. SASCO strongly believes that NSFAS, as a direct route to Free Education, has reached its sell by date. We demand Free Education and we demand it NOW.

We make this strong call because year on year, we fell the pain of those who have succeeded in their pre-tertiary education, but get excluded because of insufficient funds. This will happen again this year and the years top come if South Africans do not take the struggle of Free Education seriously. We call on the ANC to respond to its own call on radical socio-economic transformation by introducing Free Education for the working class and poor.

The NSFAS scheme covers some within the poorest of the poor, but it does not cover all financially needy students. This means that so many more remain without hope, particularly the offspring of the working class and lower middle class. This further justifies our call for Free Quality Education.

SASCO will continue to engage government on our rejection of the NSFAS Bursary Guidelines in our FET/TVET colleges. We believe that the radius for transport fee and accommodation is ridiculous; it makes our students vulnerable to criminality, and incentivizes drop-outs. In a democratic South Africa, not girl child should be expected to walk 9KM to a college and arrive in time everyday. Poor students in our TVET/FET Colleges do not even have meal allowances, basically condemning them to hunger during school time. We also cannot accept that TVET/FET students are victims of incompetent College Principals who fail to submit reports in time for students to receive their transport fare or to acquire accommodation. Some of these colleges have unused and dilapidated residences which should be recapitalized and used for students.

SASCO is totally against the corruption that happens in the administration of NSFAS in some universities and colleges. In as much as we are NOT against the much spoken about investigation against undeserving beneficiaries, we do not believe this will ultimately resolve the challenge. We are aware that most of those who falsify document are not the rich that afford higher education, but are children of public servants and lower middle class earners who don’t meet NSFAS requirement, but also do not afford education. In most instances this is an act of desperation more that just a simple act of criminality. So, for those who are all over raising this issue they must also answer the question of how we will resolve the challenge of the missing middle.  We are simple making the point that it is incomplete to condemn the act and investigate (though necessary), but we must go further to find long lasting solution.

High Cost of Student Accommodation

SASCO is concerned with the High Cost of student accommodation across the country. We have observed as institutions enter into deal on our behalf with private companies and thereafter charge us exorbitant amounts we cannot afford. We warn universities to desist from these practices. There is a generally corrupt relationship between institutions and private capital in many of the Residence building projects. Soon we will be exposing these institutions and the companies they collaborate with.

Professor Cheryl de la Rey, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Pretoria must explain to us why students pay R4500 for a single room without catering in Hatfield. IS this amongst the other reasons she has closed the SASCO office, in order to exploit students freely? This amount is more than what some of our middle class youth pay for 3 bedroom flats. In fact HESA (the social club of VCs) must do introspection on how much they are doing to exclude black working class and poor students.

Our commitment

SASCO commits to being a progressive partner in higher education and training ready to ensure that it takes up student struggles uncompromisingly. We will support all efforts aimed that ensuring that transformation is indeed achieved more radically.

SASCO will continue with its Right To Learn Campaign to ensure that we maximize the access of students. We will work tirelessly to ensure that we hold institutions accountable during this period.

We are committed to a successful registration period in 2015; this must include the working class and poor. We will not allow a smooth registration period for the elite, and exclusion of the masses of the downtrodden. That’s our revolutionary commitment!

Issued by the NEC of SASCO

For more information contact,

Ntuthuko Makhombothi (SASCO President) on 071 875 2209

Or

Luzuko Buku (SASCO Secretary General) on 071 879 3258