By Inam Kula
This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 3 of VARSITY News.
The University of Cape Town and the Department of Higher Education and Training have recently announced that they will be expanding financial aid for poor students and students seeking postgraduate diplomas at UCT in two new ways.
The first change will include NSFAS and GAP funding for all postgraduate students with household incomes of less than R600,000.
This will be the first time that UCT will offer aid for postgraduate students. With this announcement, these students can now be considered for the clearing of historical debt and funding towards their qualifications.
The second change was led by the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Naledi Pandor, who has also allocated nearly R1 billion towards clearing NSFAS debt for students at South African tertiary institutions nationwide who have been financially excluded because of historical debt. This measure will apply to low-income students in undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate programs.
Although these two new measures will indeed expand financial aid for many UCT students, a number of postgraduate students have expressed reservations concerning this announcement.
Heaven Nemaungane, the Secretary General of the Engineering and the Built Environment Postgraduate Students’ Council, stated that the Council welcomed the decision by UCT to broaden postgraduate funding, as it will assist many poor students who had previously not been able to further their qualifications due to lack of funding. However, he was still concerned about the amount of postgraduate students undertaking research degrees that have been financially excluded or are struggling to secure funding.
“To ‘broaden postgraduate funding’ insinuates that the current postgraduate funding system has covered all current academically deserving students with funding,” Nemaungane said. “This is not the case. Our council has been inundated with emails from students asking for assistance with regards to funding, as some of them have gone for weeks without receiving feedback on their appeals from the Postgraduate Funding Office.”
Nemaungane said his main concern was that, despite the new funding, the University was showing dissonance between priding itself as one of the leading research institutions in the world and its lack of commitment towards the funding of poor black research candidates.
Pandor’s announcement that the government will provide R1 billion to settle the historical debts of NSFAS students was also embraced by some students. Some disadvantaged students, however, felt that this initiative was incomplete and didn’t go far enough in assisting financially disadvantaged students.
Ontiretse Phetlhu, a former UCT student, said he could not continue with his studies at UCT since 2013 as a result of historical debt. Phetlhu said he contacted the financial aid office at UCT to better understand the implications of this announcement, and was informed by the staff that they had not received any information from the Department of Higher Education or NSFAS on how this would be implemented.
For Phetlhu, the effects of these changes were yet to affect his personal life. “When I heard the announcement made by the minister, I was relieved because I have been owing UCT fees since 2013, and the university has taken legal action against me,” he said. “However, the guy at financial aid told me he is unsure as to why the Minister made a public announcement without having had consulted key stakeholders in these institutions.”
As it stands, many students remain uncertain as to how this motion will be implemented and whether it will directly impact their ability to attend UCT affordably.