CPUT Students Stage Protests Over NSFAS Issues

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Protest action has escalated at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, with heightened security forces appearing across campuses. The university has halted procedures as the situation unfolds.

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Students at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) in the Western Cape have decided to take serious protest action against the adjustment of one of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme's (NSFAS) eligibility requirements.

The intense protest action has been taking place since Monday 8 May 2023 when students reportedly set fire to a cleaning supply room near the Education Building at the university's Bellville campus, while a recreational space was torched at the Wellington campus.

Strong law enforcement has been placed across campuses alongside private security to "safeguard the institution". 

CPUT's University Management has stated that a meeting was to be held during the afternoon of 10 May 2023, to discuss and resolve the issues students are having, but the situation remains at a high.

The latest change to NSFAS eligibility requirements states that students studying for less than 60 course credits will no longer eligible for accommodation, living expenses and transport allowances.

This change in rules leaves quite a number of students stranded, as they were obviously reliant on NSFAS to continue and eventually complete their studies, as they cannot afford the various costs associated with tertiary education out of their own pockets.

NSFAS previously made adjustments to its eligibility rules earlier this year before the 2023 academic year began, and in 2021 the bursary scheme made the decision to stop funding postgraduate qualifications, and already excludes missing middle students. 

This current protest action has violently escalated to the point where campuses are shut down and classes are on pause. 

The university has also said that residences had to be evacuated by Friday, May 12 2023, and apologised for postponing its Open Day set for Saturday, May 13 2023.

In a newsflash message to staff and students, CPUT said it was left with “no other choice”.

Continued violent disruptions, torching of buildings and wanton attacks on institutional infrastructure, have forced university management to close all campuses indefinitely.

Unruly students, acting in bad faith with the sole purpose of making the university dysfunctional, have left management with no other choice but to act swiftly and decisively. The safety of staff and students is our primary concerns at this stage.

NSFAS provides financial assistance to thousands of students in the higher education sector, provided they meet the criteria as stipulated by the scheme. If approved, costs such as tuition, accommodation, transport, learning materials and other expenses will be paid for by NSFAS.  

The university's Student Representative Council (SRC) has also commented on the matter, saying that students are frustrated with a number of issues, namely NSFAS, ongoing lack of accommodation, not enough space on campus shuttles, lack of assistance at university clinics and students being unable to graduate on time due to fees still owed. 

We can't accept that, we [can't] act normal in an abnormal situation, it's unacceptable...We are calling on Management to come and meet with us [but] they are not actually willing to come on board. There was a newsflash that they [the university] released, saying we should meet today, but today at the SRC, we never got any special email to say that we are meeting at this time and this venue.

The SRC added that a memorandum of students' demands was sent to the university's management last week Thursday and Friday, which was received and forwarded to the Vice Chancellor. 

According to the SRC, the Vice Chancellor was meant to make an appearance on the following Monday, to address and respond to students, but no such thing unfolded.

As we are speaking to you right now, we have not received any feedback on those [demands]. What happened is that when the newsflash was released, it was said that anyone found to be disrupting or vandalizing the university, was going to be charged as per the rules.

However, we'd like to say that we have not been invited by the management to touch base on the matters mentioned; all we are waiting for some form of feedback from the Vice Chancellor to the SRC to say 'on this day and on this date, we are going to debate on this matter'. 

The SRC has firmly reiterated that no university operations will take place until all the students' demands have been met.

CPUT was amongst the group of tertiary institutions that engaged in heated protests earlier this year, regarding financial blocks, accommodation and registration problems, which began at the University of Cape Town and quickly gained momentum across the country.


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