University registrations hit by hiccup over historical debt

The University of the Witwatersrand student representative council (SRC) has written to the interim ministerial task team on funding “asking them to plead with the president to sign off the guarantee universities claim they need in order to register students”.

This the student body said it had done “upon realising that students are not allowed to register due to historical debts” and after approaching “university management in an attempt to persuade them to allow students to register”.

The SRC said on Sunday that management told it that it was “approaching a financial deficit of R56-million and they cannot afford to incur the cost of the historical debts‚ which amount to R400-million”.

It said management’s position was that “if they are to allow students to register without a guarantee from the state they would be breaking the law in terms of the credit act”.

“In the initial meeting they told us that they are meeting with the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) to convince them to grant a guarantee so that they can go ahead and register students‚” the student body said in a statement.

“Their report of that meeting was that DHET denied them that guarantee in the argument that they have done all they could with the concessions that are already on the table for NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme) students.”

Wits management said on Sunday that vice-chancellors met last week “with the DHET for clarity on the support to students in the ‘missing middle’ with historic debt”.

“Wits recommended that students in this category be fully supported. The DHET‚ however‚ indicated that there were no funds available and that students in the ‘missing middle’ are responsible for their own respective historical debt‚” a statement said.

“The department recommended that universities assist as far as possible to register academically successful students with historical debt if such students (a) settle their debt or (b) commit to payment plans. These financial concessions are to be undertaken without breaching the fiduciary responsibilities and without compromising the financial sustainability of universities.”

Wits management made the following interim suggestions:

- “All students who owe R10 000 or less will have their debt automatically rolled into their 2017 fees and will be allowed to register; and

- “Students who have debt higher than R10 000 will be requested to pay half the outstanding balance and enter into a payment plan for the remainder of the funds‚ before being allowed to register.”

The SRC said that “if students who owe R10 000 and less are able to register‚ we are then going to revise our initial list of the SRC Humanitarian Fund so that we can assist with the 50% of debt required”.

It would also step up efforts to get “different stakeholders to contribute towards raising funds” by contributing to this fund.

The SRC also said it would “fight for the extension of late registrations so that we buy ourselves more time to raise the money needed”.

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