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To: Jerome September Dean of students,University of Witwatersrand

Add your name to assist Wits students owing more than R20 000 to register

Add your name to assist Wits students owing more than R20 000 to register

We urge the Finance Committee of Council (FinCo) to accommodate non NSFAS and non-bursary students with historical debt of more than R20 000 to be able to register for the current academic year along with those graduating in 2020. Currently students are busy with registrations for the new academic year and those not on NSFAS could face financial exclusion and could end up not registering if they fail to pay their outstanding debt.
Currently the Wits SRC has played an important role towards probing the University to roll out the Acknowledgement of debt (AOD) for students owing less than R15 000. This has allowed students to register and waive their initial payment provided they can prove that their debt will be settled [1] as it stands this service is widely utilized by those who can afford and can prove that they will be able to clear their historical debt and has ensured many are saved from financial exclusion.

However, the fee crisis students are faced with around this time of the year demonstrates the shortcomings of the department of higher education and training (DHET) following the nationwide #FeesMustFall movement. The DHET has managed to clear historic debt of over 52 000 students who are currently funded by NSFAS [3]. This still fails to resolve the financial exclusion crisis in institutions of higher learning as students who fail to acquire funding from NSFAS and are from non- middle-class backgrounds are excluded from higher learning.

Non NSFAS and non-bursary students who fail to secure funding have their futures negatively affected as the reality of financial exclusion draws closer. Bursary and funding institutions such as NSFAS receive close to 20 000 applications yearly of which more than 70 338 are first time Wits university entrants, according to 2018 statistics [2] this proves that the scheme cannot be able to cover the costs of all its applicants, thus more students are left without financial assistance

Why is this important?

Lungelo Malevu, holding a BSc in Biological Sciences is one of many from Wits University who currently have historical debt

“I owe R135 893.28 and the university has withheld my degree and I only have access to my unofficial transcript. This is a challenge because I cannot apply for a number of jobs since there is no proof that I have completed my degree”

Portia Mosime, hoping to register for her final year in Psychology

“my mother is unemployed but we survive through the money she makes from her vegetable garden which supplies her community with fresh veggies, however she makes less than R500 a month this is not enough to cover the outstanding debt at Wits amounting to R76 117.81”

Students often financially excluded from institutions of higher learning are black female students from previously disadvantaged backgrounds. They account for close to 58% in universities and 57% in TVET colleges [4]. The lack of access to funding opportunities for higher learning affects them the most.

Following the efforts made by the SRC and other important organizations, these testimonies should motivate people to add their names to this campaign to put more pressure on the financial committee (FinCo) as they are the ones responsible for determining the fees to be paid by students. Ultimately this should end the unequal access to institutions of higher learning affecting poor black South African youth. The efforts by NSFAS and other funding schemes can only assist a certain number of students, this further reduces the rate at which graduates enter the job market.
Despite unemployment rates being high, the critical work of doctors and nurses requires a surplus of recent graduates based on the demands of the job. If a medical degree student fails to clear their historic debt they cannot graduate and enter the job market, potentially changing people’s lives. These dreams end up not being a reality.
Therefore, the more support this campaign gains, the fight against academic exclusion due to finances is kept alive, students around this time are in distress and often end up further getting themselves into more debt and stress way before the academic year starts. Adding your name to this campaign at this moment ensures that the relevant decision makers can act now and implement these demands before the month comes to an end. This means that students with historic debt can continue with their studies.

References

[1] Wits Vuvuzela, 2019 Accessed here:
https://www.wits.ac.za/registration/returning-undergraduate-students/

[2] Takalani Sioga for the Wits Vuvuzela. 3 August 2018. Accessed here:
https://www.witsvuvuzela.com/2018/08/03/nsfas-tells-2019-applicants-to-wait/

[3] Michael Pedro for EWN, 2019. Accessed here:
https://www.google.com/amp/s//ewn.co.za/2019/03/24/dhet-allocates-r697m-to-nsfas-to-settle-historic-debt-owed-to-universities/amp

[4] South African Market. 12 November 2019 Category: Education accessed here:
https://www.southafricanmi.com/education-statistics.html

Wits University, Jan Smuts Avenue, Johannesburg, South Africa

Maps © Stamen; Data © OSM and contributors, ODbL

Updates

2020-01-22 14:20:03 +0200

Final response from the decision maker Mr Jerome September Dean of students at Wits University:
Wits Council approved R10 million to be placed into a Hardship Fund to enable students with the debt of more than R10 000 but less than R100 000 to register; pending a consideration of their circumstances. The committee will however consider the cases of students owing up to R120 000. Students must apply for this assistance through the Hardship Fund which can be found on the student portal. Such students will be assisted with 50% of their outstanding fees up to a maximum of R50 000. They will then sign an AOD for the balance. Applications will be considered on a case by case basis.

2020-01-21 22:12:59 +0200

The dean of students as of today has sent an email in which he is set to have a look at the petition and provide a final response end of businesses tomorrow

2020-01-21 14:56:49 +0200

Further response from Shirona Patel Head of communications Wits University: In SA, there is indeed still a need for funding for those in the missing middle and those not on NSFAS or scholarships/bursaries. All societal stakeholders, including the public and private sectors, have to work together with universities to address this gap.

We have been advised to contact Jerome September the dean of students and we are currently awaiting a response

2020-01-21 14:53:12 +0200

Response from Shirona Patel, Head of communications: "I agree with you that it is difficult for students who are not on NSFAS or bursaries to pay fees, particularly those in the missing middle. A Wits degree changes the lives of individuals & their families - almost half are first in their family to attend a university.
Wits University administers over R1 billion in financial aid, scholarships and bursaries every year & I think that if it were possible, it would do more. But it is a non-profit institution and our funding is finite – utilities, salaries and expenses have to be paid. We cannot spend more than we have or we will end up in a financial crisis and the entire student community will suffer. As in other countries around the world, student funding cannot be resolved by individual universities - it requires a comprehensive, national, systemic response"

2020-01-21 10:53:03 +0200

We are currently sitting on 155 signatures I thank all the people that have contributed and shared this petition so far.
We have contacted the Wits SRC in order to get assistance with the deliverance of the petition and the SRC president Thuto Gabaphete promised us a response of which it hasn't been received yet.
We moved on to the communication team at Wits Shirona Patel and her colleagues, we could not reach them by telephone and via email, they have since not replied to our emails and countless voicemails.
To gain media support and ensure the campaign gains momentum in a short space of time we contacted the Wits Vuvuzela team for media coverage and they also seem to be on holiday as we didn't get a response
Lastly our final resort was to get the Vice Chancellor Adam Habib to receive the petition on behalf of the Finance Committee at Wits and he has currently not responded to our messages.

2020-01-15 13:28:43 +0200

100 signatures reached

2020-01-13 19:33:26 +0200

50 signatures reached

2020-01-13 17:21:18 +0200

25 signatures reached

2020-01-13 13:28:02 +0200

10 signatures reached