Desperate TUT students hold visiting MPs hostage - Belinda Bozzoli

DA MP says portfolio committee members detained for an hour by protesters, threatened with stoning

Desperate students hold Portfolio Committee hostage in protest at TUT

Yesterday the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training met on the Tshwane University of Technology's (TUT) Soshanguve Campus and was interrupted by students protesting the lack of funding from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

Desperate students held Committee members hostage for an hour and threatened them with stoning. Heavily armed police were called to the campus, and a march of about 700 students was under way when the Committee left after concluding its business. Further protests are to be expected at this campus, where violent protests took place last year, ending in the death of one student.

Earlier this week the Walter Sisulu University (WSU) closed its Buffalo City campus due to protests sparked by a lack of funding from NSFAS and high student debt levels.

I wrote to the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande, ten days ago requesting a meeting to discuss the inadequate funding for the NSFAS. I have had no response to this request and will now write again to urge him to commit to a date.

The symptoms of the failure of the government's strategy towards Higher Education have begun to appear and will continue as the 2015 year proceeds.

The DA does not condone any violence for any reason, but understands the desperation these students must feel. It is therefore imperative that we meet with the Minister to engage meaningfully on solutions to this funding crisis to remove the motive to protest and lay to rest the concerns of students.

The shortage of funding available to students through the NSFAS is a well-known fact. In July last year, NSFAS admitted to the Portfolio Committee that despite the increase in funds for financial aid it could only fund half of students eligible for study loans and bursaries.

The government is rightly determined that Universities need to increase their numbers, but has steadily reduced subsidy payment per head to the Universities over the past twenty years. Universities themselves are unable to pay for more than a small number of the students without going into debt themselves.

This is compounded by the fact that as time goes on, the students who are admitted and who succeed in spite of having no funding, build up enormous debts which they are unable to repay to the University.

The level of debt at TUT has risen over the past two years from R134m to R247m. These indebted students are not readmitted to the University, not supported by NSFAS and unable to find funding elsewhere. It is the indebted students who are the most likely to protest. Is it surprising that they rebel?

The resulting frustration and desperation felt by those who have qualified for tertiary education but who cannot afford to pay only adds to the instability in our society.

Time and again the DA has called on the government to radically rethink its funding model for University education. NSFAS funding, at around R9bn, is higher than it has ever been - but is nowhere near the level required. Funding for Universities is particularly low, proportionately lower than, for example Ghana.

Every eligible and deserving student should have access to funding for tertiary education. It is essential for the growth of South Africa's citizens and their future opportunities in the working world.

The DA will continue to fight to make sure that students are afforded the opportunity to better their futures. University education is no longer a luxury for our society, it is a necessity. It is time the ANC led government realised this.

Statement issued by Belinda Bozzoli, DA Shadow Minister of Higher Education and Training, February 7 2015

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