While students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) are up in arms over various fee payments, including registration for 2021, the institution says it gives some of the best concessions in the country and not all fees students referred to are covered by national funding.
“The 2020 pronouncements by the minister of higher education and by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme [NSFAS] indicated that NSFAS-qualifying students would be allowed to register without paying registration fees.
“However, registration fees are not the only payments that students are required to make in advance of registration,” said university spokesperson Normah Zondo on Wednesday.
She was responding to questions sent by News24 after students said the university had refused to register some of them, despite qualifying for NSFAS funding.
It has been meeting with the Student Representative Council (SRC) to resolve long-standing issues.
Law student Kayleigh Runjeeth and about 20 other students said they could potentially be excluded from the academic year because of financial issues between NSFAS and the university.
Each year, they added, the institution demanded they pay a certain amount of money upfront for registration.
“NSFAS ought to cover those fees,” Runjeeth said.
She added when they queried the matter with the university, they were told NSFAS did not pay the full amount, saying, however, when they contacted NSFAS they were told the full amount was paid.
According to NSFAS, students funded by it “are not required to pay any registration fee”.
“Since 2018, NSFAS is providing a full bursary. Students who were funded by NSFAS registered before 2018 and incurred debt under the loan system are covered under the Historic Debt Fund. All institutions can claim from this fund for students who incur debt and meet other requirements of the fund,” it told News24.
Zondo said NSFAS-funded students with debt still needed to make payments for prior years, including 2020.
“Those amounts [are] still expected to be received from NSFAS are deducted accordingly [and have always been deducted] when determining the debt amounts that are the responsibility of the students. [We] have never required any NSFAS-funded students to pay funds that are due from NSFAS.”
She added the debt amounts that were the responsibility of students generally arose as a result of:
– Unpaid fees from the years during which students were not funded by NSFAS.
– Unpaid fees from years during which the student’s actual costs exceeded the NSFAS funding cap which is applicable to students who entered their tertiary level studies before 2018. This is in terms of the funding criteria that is stipulated by NSFAS.
– Unpaid fees from other costs that are not covered by NSFAS, such as fees for clubs and societies, and fees for supplementary exams. The only costs that are funded by NSFAS are tuition, student levies, accommodation and allowances.
Student accommodation not used during Covid-19
Runjeeth also raised the issue of student accommodation, saying in the first semester of 2020, students paid for residences “even though they were at home from March after the outbreak of Covid-19”.
She added by July, many students had tried to deregister for residences so they could get home allowances.
However, Runjeeth said the university had told them should they deregister for the residence, they would not be allowed in residences the following year.
She and her group believed the university would refund them for residences while they were at home.
Zondo said the issue of student residences was still in discussion.
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“The issue of the partial reversal of 2020 student residences fees is still under consideration by management and the appropriate governance structures of the university.
“[It is] the higher education department and NSFAS that guide the university regarding NSFAS-funded students transferring from university owned and leased residences to private accommodation. [We have] followed these guidelines in every instance.”
She added the “university has enacted processes [mainly financial clearance concessions] which ensure that no single UKZN full-time student is required to pay 100% of their debt in full prior to registration”.
“In fact, the majority of the student population [approximately 78%] is required to contribute only 15% towards their historic debt with a R15 000 cap on the maximum amount payable regardless of their debt.
“This is the lowest requirement of all universities in South Africa, and most universities require their students to settle their debt in full prior to registration.
“The UKZN package of student concessions is the most generous and progressive in South Africa. In spite of the financial difficulties we face as an institution, we have maintained our commitment to the transformation ideals of the institution,” Zondo said.