The University of Witwatersrand is heading for its first deficit in more than 11 years as its council came to a deadlock with government over the registration of students with high debt history, says the varsity vice-chancellor, Adam Habib.
Habib made it known that government still owes the institution more than R405m and of this amount, students owed R208m, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) owed R67m and donors who defaulted on pledges owed R46m at the end of last year.
Habib also said that the Witwatersrand university’s cost had risen with operational costs running up to about R300m a month after it started taking contract staff in-house.
Unlike other universities such as Stellenbosch and University of Cape Town (UCT) which had healthy surpluses at the end of 2015, Witwatersrand has been having a trend of nonpayment among those who could and could not afford to pay university fees.
Habib laid the blame on government for initially telling the varsity council to let those with historic debt register and enter into a payment plan with students.
“This should not be allowed,” he said, citing the move as illegal. “The Credit Act stipulated that loans could not be given to people who could not afford to pay them back,” he added.
In 2016, Witwatersrand reached an agreement with government to settle debts owed by NSFAS-funded students, allowing them to register. New students not funded by NSFAS were also allowed to register without paying the registration fee after signing a form stating they could not pay.
But no agreement was later reached with existing students who already owed the institution. “We think we resolved, at least temporarily, the registration issue. The outstanding issue is the historic debt,” he said.
Meanwhile, Progressive Youth Alliance (PYA) chairman Mpendulo Mfeka calls for the registration fee waiver – introduced to help students register, and as the year goes on they find plans to try to cover the debt- to include first-year students this year, so they could register until NSFAS responded to their financial aid applications.
He claimed Adam Habib was trying to shut the door on poor black people who can’t afford and they are the ones who need to sign the AOD,
“They have tried to exclude black bodies in many ways. Once we have more whites, movements like #FeesMustFall get suppressed because those people don’t identify with the struggle. When we say fees must fall we are also talking to racialism in the university. Also, R9,000 for registration is financial lynching,” Mfeka said.
Habib, in return, noted that it would be a neglect of his fiduciary duties if he turned blind eye to the financial status of the institution and fails to ensure the university was financially sustainable.
“Whether I like it or not, if government doesn’t pay [more in state subsidies] or the students don’t, something has to balance it out,” Habib concluded.
By this, Adam Habib could be looking at further increasing the tuition fee which already has been increased by 8% this year as a result of inflation and currency fluctuations.