Education: Students – why the protests!

Problems facing students

….Insufficient funding

Lack of funding for students is a major problem. The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), funded mainly by government, helped almost 100 000 students in 2003 with a budget of R878m. But it does not fund the student’s full cost.

NSFAS uses a means test – the more the student’s family can afford, the less the student is granted.

In 2004, the full cost of study at Medunsa was R40 024. At the Eastern Cape Technikon it was R23, 917. NSFAS paid the Medunsa learner only R22 205 and the Eastern Cape learner only R5 571. The students had to pay the difference.

Often this results in students dropping out even if they have passed. Others share with other students that have accommodation.

The NSFAS has a budget over R1 billion. In 2004 NSFAS awarded loans ranging between R11 000 and R22 000. It charged an interest rate of 7% calculated at 2% above the annual rate of inflation. Students have to start paying back the loan as soon as they earn an income of R26 300 or more per annum after graduating

They sacrifice meals, find part-time jobs – all this in an attempt to raise money to pay the shortfall. Another problem arises after the student secures a loan when interest starts to accrue.

Poor parents accumulate debts trying to keep up with the growing debt in the institutions where their children attend. Often they resort to taking loans at high interest from loan sharks. Others borrow from their provident funds and eat up what they should be saving for their old age.

Ben Khoza, Numsa’s vice president, had to work many hours of over-time in order to put his son through medical school.

When parents can not make any of these alternative plans, their children are doomed to be semi-skilled like their parents, and run the risk of being unable to provide sufficiently for their children too.

…Historical disparities

Prior to 1994, most funding from government and private funding from big business was channelled into tertiary institutions based on the apartheid. The bulk went into building the infrastructure and research capacity of the historically white universities. Very little funding was directed to historically black universities.

The result is a vast difference between the research capacity and infrastructure development in historically white institutions as against historically black ones. Students feel that management in the institutions of higher learning is not using the mergers to address these kinds of historical disparities.

…Problems arising from mergers

At the beginning of 2005, many technikons and universities merged. This led to a number of different problems.

At the new Johannesburg University that combines the former RAU, Wits Technikons, and the Soweto branch of Vista University , students protested when they discovered that the new university used Afrikaans as the official language of communication.

The students were also unhappy with the university council’s proposal that students should submit their CVs to a committee of management for approval before they stood for election as members of the house committees. They felt that the approval of CV’s by management was unnecessary and amounted to appointment of members of house committees. Students think that the passion for the welfare of the students should be enough qualification for any student to contest election for house committee vacancies.

Students also found that their new access cards denied them access to some parts of the University and they faced a further obstacle with the discontinuation of intercampus bus services.

….Accommodation difficulties

At Pretoria University , the accommodation policy prescribes a quota of 60% white and 40% black in every hostel. Sasco complains that this excludes many needy and distant black students who end up sleeping in toilets, libraries and lecture halls.

Students also feel that their fellow students in some campuses like TUT Soshanguve are subject to living conditions that are not fit for human habitation.

….Fee differences

Students are not satisfied with differing fees charged at different institutions. At Wits University the registration fee is R3 500 whilst at Rhodes it is R8 000, R4 000 in Potchefstroom and R2 500 at the University of the Western Cape .

Likewise the cost of studying for a junior degree varies greatly across institutions even when the products that they are offering are similar (see box below)


Tuition fees for 1 st year BCom

University of Witwatersrand

R17 400 -R20 660

University of Cape Town


University of KwaZulu Natal

R12000 – R17000

Nelson Mandela Metropole University


University of Johannesburg

R11 200

University of the Western Cape

R10 370

What students want


Students want the government funding formula that is based on the output of the system rather than the number of the students that are registered in each institution to be used to promote redress, as it will force historically advantaged institutions to recruit and retain students from disadvantaged communities.

Currently historically white institutions register many black students to bolster their numbers and demographic profiles for funding purposes. (Universities receive more subsidies for black students than for whites)

But many of these black students never graduate due to their schooling in disadvantaged schools and the lack of learner support programmes to level the playing field during their study in the historically white institutions.

Students also want the government to control and regulate fees at universities and technikons.

Sasco argues that the private sector can play a big role in solving the problems of finance that beset the higher education sector. Sasco believes that focused institutional infrastructure funding can help to resolve the historical disparities that subsist in institutions of higher learning even after the mergers.

Sasco also proposes that various banks adopt specific institutions within which they should support academic programmes that are relevant to the developmental needs of the communities where such institutions are situated.

As part of a solution to the student grievances outlined above, students feel that the tendency by some management of institutions of higher learning to view their leadership with suspicion is not helping the situation.

Various senate committees should make place for students’ representatives, in order to improve the involvement of students in decision-making of institutions of higher learning. The better involvement of students in decision-making processes of the institutions will promote consultative and co-operative governance and help to solve or even avoid institution-specific problems relating to student governance, security in institutions, language and other policies, and general student support services.