On Tuesday, 16 March 2021, the Acting Public Protector, Advocate Kholeka Gcaleka visited the University of Venda (UNIVEN) to engage with various stakeholders about a strategy that her office is working on to address some of the challenges at higher education institutions. Participants in the meeting were the University management, student leadership, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and the South African Human Rights Commission. This meeting took place at UNIVEN Research Conference Centre.
Advocate Gcaleka said in 2020, the Public Protector’s Office received NSFAS-related complaints, which include inadequate allowances for study material and non-payment of living allowances.
Advocate Gcaleka highlighted that, without education, we will never preserve the future of this country. “We need to be visionaries as the leaders of today. We need to avoid a situation where every year, the children of this country are being chased by the police trying to fight for access to education.”
She advised UNIVEN SRC to speak about all their challenges, so that they could be resolved harmoniously.
In his response, the Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Dr Bernard Nthambeleni highlighted several challenges facing the University. Among other matters, Dr Nthambeleni presented analysis of the University’s status; background and context; how to position UNIVEN for impact; UNIVEN revenue sources; UNIVEN Student Funding issues; Challenges with NSFAS and UNIVEN management’s actions to resolve NSFAS and other financial issues.
He said, government grants remain the key source of revenue for UNIVEN. “Over 11 879 which is 78% of our students are funded by NSFAS and other government departments. About 3 459 students are in the ‘missing middle category’. These are students whose family household’ income exceeds the maximum amount required to qualify for NSFAS but are still unable to fund university studies.” Dr Nthambeleni further highlighted that, these missing middle students currently owe the University about R92 million rand and the debt is increasing every year. He said that the UNIVEN overall historical student debt balances at the end of 31 December 2020 was R441 million.
When talking about the issue of gadgets that are meant to assist students with online learning, Dr Nthambeleni said that the University started allocating tablets to all registered students’ way back in 2015. However, the University no longer provide tablets to students, “we are now giving them laptops”.
UNIVEN SRC President, Mr Gift Chauke highlighted the issues that students come across every year. He explained that, UNIVEN students are struggling a lot financially because it seems like NSFAS does not take them serious like students from other universities. “All we need is fair treatment from NSFAS”. Other issues that Mr Chauke has highlighted were challenges of students who stay in villages where there is limited internet access or no network coverage at all. He said online learning is not possible for those students.
He further stressed the issue of funding for postgraduate students and student safety on and off campus. “On campus we do not have challenges as such, however we experience problems on students who get robbed or raped at off campus non-accredited residences. We also need to assist students who are staying at these residences with funds to access accredited residences.”
When talking about the issue of national shutdown at tertiary institutions, Mr Chauke said that, UNIVEN situation is different from other universities, hence we allowed our students to finish the 2020 academic year before they could talk about the national shutdown. “It is not like we did not want to participate in the total shutdown. These challenges also affect us, but we also need to be in the same academic year with students from other universities,” he said.
In her response, NSFAS COO, Ms Nthuseng Mphahlele said in the past three years, NSFAS has experienced a very high expenditure growth due to the demand of prospective students who need financial support for their studies. She said NSFAS make sure that all students are appropriately funded. NSFAS also need to be sure about where such students are registered and that takes time, which leads to delayed payments.
“NSFAS pays an institution (a University) to administer finances for all students that are funded. However, before the funds could be directed to an institution, we first make sure that institutions have proper administration of these funds.” She said it is only at TVET Colleges where NSFAS pays funds directly to students and the tuition fees to the TVET College.
With regards to funding of postgraduate qualifications, Ms Mphahlele stated that a policy was yet to be finalised.
In her response, Senior Legal Officer at Human Rights Commission Limpopo Provincial Office, Dr Eileen Carter said students have the rights to access to education and that seem to be a challenge in South Africa because the Human Rights Commission receives a lot of complaints about students who couldn’t be registered due to their historical debt owed to institutions. She said there should be a funding mechanism that will make sure that all deserving and qualifying students are catered for to avoid financial exclusions at tertiary institutions.
In his opening and welcoming address, the University Registrar, Advocate Edward Lambani cited that, UNIVEN has already anticipated that this visit would yield positive results that will benefit all stakeholders involved. “Even though we feel like this could have been done earlier but we really appreciate the engagement of all stakeholders under one roof.
The vote of thanks was done by Advocate George Motimolane from the Provincial Office of the Public Protector (Left) and the UNIVEN Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic, Prof Jan Crafford (right).
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Date: 18 March 2021