The Wits University’s Student Representative Council (SRC) has appealed to civil society to assist in raising R21 million to save the new academic year for over 8 000 students.
It says the Wits students face the risk of exclusion because they are unable to pay tuition fees due to impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The student body says many of the students need to register by Friday but cannot afford even the registration fees. Wits SRC members addressed students and the media at the university’s Braamfontein campus in Johannesburg on Wednesday evening.
The students have threatened to embark on a protest action should the university block students from registering for the 2021 academic year.
SRC secretary general, Sinqobile Nxumalo says, “Students can’t register – it is during a pandemic and we have a lot of students who can’t register. The number has quadrupled than in any other year which is usually 2 000. This year unfortunately, we have 8 142 students who are at the risk of being financially excluded. Usually the SRC fundraises through initiatives such as O-weeks and parties and fundraise for students unfortunately this year as we are in a pandemic, we can’t have social gatherings. I’d like to put it on record that the SRC does not allow the university to commodify education.”
SRC President, Mpendulo Mfeka says their fight for inclusion is not just about students but poor South Africans.
“The SRC has taken to task to raise R21-million for 8142 students who are at financial risk at Wits University. We call on civil society to tap in and play their role in helping us ensure that these students come back into the system. We must emphasise that this number is unprecedented on our campus.
This is not just about the students anymore. It’s about their families who are at home. It’s about someone in rural Lusikisiki, it’s about someone in township Soweto, and it’s about someone who has nowhere to turn to in rural Venda. We are putting this to the university that without or without this R21-million, students are going to register.”
WITS SRC legal and policy officer Gabriella Nechama Farber talks about steps they have taken to try and help the students at risk:
Farber talks more on the issue:
Wits SRC Treasurer General, Kanakana Mudzanani, has accused the university of arrogance in its dealing with the alleged potential exclusion of students at the institution. Mudzanani says the SRC has approached Wits University on a number of occasions over a number of fee-related issues and received little assistance.
“We went to the Financial Committee of the university where we first opposed the proposal of a fee increment and we were met with arrogance. We then went as far as proposing that in the academic year 2021, no one is financially excluded, things did not go our way.
We then went as far as writing a memorandum of demands to ensure that we are assisted by the university in mitigating this challenge and the immediate plan, at least from the university’s perspective is introduced to mitigate the crisis. And I must confidently say that there was no plan and there was no response that was adequate enough to respond to this situation,” adds Mudzanani.
Wits hits back
However, the university has refuted the allegations. It has hit back, saying the SRC’s allegations are false.
Spokesperson, Shirona Patel, says, “It is not true that 8 000 students face financial exclusion from the university. In fact, more than half of those students are awaiting bursaries and NSFAS funding and while there are some students who will require funding, the majority of students at Wits are on some form of financial aid scholarship or bursary. Out of its own council budget, Wits has committed R100 million per year to assist students through bursaries and scholarships.”
The university says it will commence with the 2021 academic year in early March with a blended learning approach.