For the past few weeks, students at some public higher education institutions have been protesting over the recent NSFAS R45 000 accommodation cap, NSFAS funding decision delays, registration issues due to historic debt, among many other challenges.
Since the start of the year, various universities including Wits, the University of Cape Town and the University of KwaZulu-Natal have been experiencing protests.
More recently, these protests have turned violent, with students looting universities and surrounding businesses, destroying property and disrupting classes. This tension has resulted in violent clashes between students, campus security and private security, with metro police now being called onto many of these campuses.
Members of parliament are raising concerns as thousands of deserving students are losing their university spaces as they await funding decisions from NSFAS and miss their registration deadlines.
While a few solutions have been discussed, such as students with historic debt still being allowed to register, granted they sign an Acknowledgement of Debt Form, institutions are not following through on these agreements.
Approximately 20% of higher learning students form part of the missing middle, meaning they cannot be funded by NSFAS, nor can they afford to pay their own fees. This ultimately puts them in debt that they cannot pay, preventing them from being allowed to register for the following year.
The South African Union of Students (SAUS) has also raised concerns regarding the arrests of many students, as well as the suspension of some Student Representative Council (SRC) leaders during peaceful protests. SAUS spokesperson, Asive Dlanjwa, condemns these suspensions and arrests, stating that removing leaders is what causes the protests to become violent.
When you remove from the strike and the protest, the people who have the credibility and the authority to lead the students, you leave room for thugs and opportunities to take over these protests, you begin to see sporadic acts of violence.
Funding issues also resume for lower-income students. Over 200 000 students have been left in limbo as NSFAS continues to work through appeals. In the meantime, students are unable to complete their registration and as a result have lost their spot.
Disruptions at some institutions are ongoing as the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), NSFAS, Universities South Africa (USAf) and various vice chancellors scramble to deliver on their promises and effectively deal with these challenges.