Covid-19 financial woes could see thousands of Wits students not returning

27,000 of the university’s 37,500 students are on some form of financial aid, scholarship or bursary

The SRC said many students have lost their bursaries after companies closed; or their parents have lost their jobs and are now unable to pay their fees.
The SRC said many students have lost their bursaries after companies closed; or their parents have lost their jobs and are now unable to pay their fees.
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The financial impact of Covid-19 in the country could see thousands of University of the Witwatersrand students not return, despite interventions from the institution.

Wits SRC president Mpendulo Mfeka said 8,124 students faced the risk of financial exclusions.

“This means that even though they passed their academic courses and even though they are academically readmitted to the university, they will not be able to continue due to lacking the finances.”

Mfeka said many students have lost their bursaries after companies closed; adding that many students were affected after their parents lost their jobs and were now unable to pay fees.

“Despite the unprecedented circumstances, the university has not responded adequately; students have been given a minuscule rebate and fees for 2021 were increased despite the fact the students were not on campus for the majority of 2020.”

He said many families relied on the students and were hopeful that they would return and complete their students.

Wits spokesperson Shirona Patel said the 8,000 students referred to are those who owe the institution money for the academic year of 2020.

Patel said several students were still waiting outstanding payments from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme or private bursaries.

“This does not mean that they will be financially excluded.

“The university is aware of the adverse impact of the coronavirus on students and their families. The pandemic has also impacted on the university and the higher education sector.

“Government support has declined in real terms and student debt has increased dramatically due to the effects of #FeesMustFall, the economic downturn, the Covid-19 pandemic, and other factors.”

Patel said the university had made many concessions to help students mitigate the impact of the pandemic, including:

  • Establishing a Wits Hardship Fund worth R10m to assist students experiencing financial hardship and who have historical debt up to R120,000 to register and secure accommodation, if they meet the criteria.
  • Allowing students who owe less than R10,000 from the previous year to register.
  • Debts of more than R10,000 – students are not required to settle the entire amount but pay 50% to register.
  • Not charging interest on fees accrued in the 2020 academic year,
  • Allowing students who are unable to pay the full amount to enter into a payment plan agreement by signing an Acknowledgment of Debt agreement with the fees office, which allows the student to pay off fees over the rest of the year. Students who meet the obligations of the payment plan are not charged interest.

Patel said about 27,000 of the university’s 37,500 students are on some form of financial aid, scholarship or bursary.

“Wits administers over R1bn in financial aid and scholarships every year, of which R100m is a provision made by the university.

“Despite these interventions, there is still a need for more student support, and the university is thus supporting the drive from the SRC to create awareness about the need for more funds to assist academically talented students.”

Mfeka said the SRC would present an intervention strategy to the university at 6pm on Wednesday.

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