THE SA Student Union (SAUS) has called for a national shutdown of all 26 institutions of higher learning with immediate effect today (Monday) until the funding, historical debt, and other issues are completely dealt with.
SAUS convened an urgent national executive committee meeting, including all Student Representative Councils (SRCs) across the country, preparing for the 2021 academic year and the challenges that have crippled the sector.
The meeting took place at the weekend and they met Higher Education and Training Department and National Student Financial Aid Scheme representatives.
According to student leaders, out of 15 matters submitted to the department, none received a positive response.
SAUS secretary-general Lwandile Mtsolo said all 26 university SRCs have supported the decision of national shutdown unanimously, saying this would continue until all their demands were met and free education was implemented as announced by the former president Jacob Zuma.
Among their demands, the union is seeking the clearance of historical debt, that all arrested students and suspended students be exonerated, appeals to be addressed, allowances to be distributed timeously, and the immediate provision of post-graduate funding.
He said they were also advocating for advanced diploma qualifications to be included in the funding framework.
“As it stands, student debt is at R13 billion. Therefore, we demand financial clearance and the clearance of historical debts for all students to ensure smooth registration. The University of the Western Cape has set a good precedent in this regard. A failure to clear debt is setting universities (on a path of) protest and unrest,” said Mtsolo.
The union also demanded that student allowances be provided in March, stating that landlords were already harassing students for payment and some may even face evictions.
“Students must be provided with their academic records and certificates, even those who owe fees to these universities. We also demand 0% fee increment for the 2021 academic year. Student leaders were not consulted when this decision was taken,” he said.
Mtsolo said there was lack of urgency and commitment by the Ministry of Higher Education to amicably resolve these issues without exposing students to brutal protests.
“For the Finance Minister Tito Mboweni to cut budgets and reduce university subsidies for higher education are a sign of an uncaring government. President Cyril Ramaphosa must ensure that the defunding of universities and higher education budget cuts are reversed and free education is realised,” he said.
Mtsolo further issued a stern warning to vice-chancellors to stop targeting SRC members who would be implementing this resolution.
University of KwaZulu-Natal SRC president Siyabonga Nkambako, who was part of the meeting, said the department could not address its plan regarding free education, however, “it made excuses regarding the technicalities they have”.
“We don’t care about those technicalities, and we don’t want to even hear about them. We are not happy at all, in fact, we are angry because we are being taken for a ride,” he said.
He said one of the issues they were demanding was for the government to ensure that universities clear all students’ historical debt for registration.
Nkambako said out of respect to the passing of Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini, they were going to remain calm, for now.
“We are going to sit down as leaders at UKZN and plot a way forward regarding the shutdown of the university. We are going to meet this week and chat about KZN and UKZN,” said Nkambako.
Durban University of Technology SRC president Zabelo Ntuli said they were going to meet the university management this week plead with them to allow students back to residences.
He said the department also made it clear that there won’t be funding for postgraduate studies due to budget cuts, adding that this caused a lot of anger.
“Instead of responding to our demands, the department just disrespected us, and we were very dissatisfied with how they treated us. They fail even to provide a positive response to one matter, they don’t take us seriously,” said Ntuli.
The department was contacted for a comment, however, no response was received after a number of calls and messages.