‘We Are Even Held Ransom’ By Universities

Universities have no idea, or they think they do, about what students go through. Why should they, considering that they are right-wing institutions by nature?

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By Gaby Ndongo (5 mins read)

In early January, I saw a post on Instagram by the University of Johannesburg (UJ) boldly stating: “NO WALK-INS”. This was pertaining to the inquiries about admission and other related matters. It’s something they do every year; so, we are ‘used’ to it.

The post made me wonder how prospective UJ students living in the rural areas of Mpumalanga, such as Amsterdam, will go about filing a late enquiry or registration. They need to travel a distance to reach the nearest town in order to scan the necessary document(s) and use a computer in one of the internet cafes.

One may ask, why a computer? Well, it is far much better unless you want to reach an irked state of mind when using your mobile phone to navigate through complex digital systems. Although it is cost saving as compared to travelling to Johannesburg, the option possesses a challenge – one of not knowing how to effectively use a computer.

The same challenge is dealt with by numerous students from poorly funded schools, both private and public. They rarely get to use this gadget even while in high school. But all of these are small affairs, right? Well, yes! . . . because money is the big picture.

Universities are ‘better’ than banks

The upfront registration fees payment is a ‘sympathetic’ move. Some institutions go as far as asking for an upfront 10% payment of the total tuition fees from locals and 75% for international students.

You may look no further beyond Rhodes University and the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), respectively.

(1) Ransom.Universities

This kind of upfront payment for international students is a “requirement” set out by the Department of Home Affairs, reportedly said Wits senior communications officer, Buhle Zuma, to the news agency GroundUp.

What confuses me is that these students are at times coming from neighbouring countries such as Zimbabwe, Lesotho, eSwatini or Botswana and then they suddenly become international.

Ah man, the conceptualisation needs to stop! It is daylight robbery.

Take for example Triphin Mudzvengi, 18, who is a Zimbabwean national. She obtained seven distinctions, which means 80%+ for every subject enrolled in matric. A feat that very few accomplish.

Although she has now received funding, initially she could not afford the 75% upfront payment as an international student. The annual tuition is R149, 370; go ahead and do the math. Both parents couldn’t settle the amount, considering that her father is a part-time bricklayer and her mother a domestic worker.

Other options like seeking funding from her country’s embassy have been cut out as she is a refugee. The Refugees Amendment Act, which was signed into law by President Cyril Ramaphosa on 1 January 2020, made it illegal for a refugee to visit his/her embassy.

“[R]efugee status ceases if a refugee seeks consular services at a diplomatic mission from his or her country of origin or nationality,” as reported by GroundUp. “The Act also states that the refugee cannot apply for any official document from his or her country’s embassy or ask for any assistance from that embassy or its institutions.”

From a long-term perspective, one can say that such established rules are robbing society of game changers as some of the deserving people are rarely given the opportunities to succeed and bring about positive change.

(2) Ransom.Universities

But what can you do? One must pay the necessary registration amount and the remaining tuition fees. We are even held ransom in instances when there is a lack of transaction. I am one of the victims. No! I am a survivor.

After completing my Bachelor of Arts degree in 2018, I did not obtain my full academic record and the year’s examination results until mid-December of 2019. The disturbing part was not receiving my first university certificate when graduating. I only saw it in mid-January of 2020 after obtaining it from UJ’s Humanities Faculty.

This unfolding was the result of my third-year tuition debt, which was impossible to settle in a year and mounted due to the monthly compounded interest charged on the outstanding amount.

Most students from missing-middle households are no strangers to this rhythm, especially international students from Africa. Universities have no idea, or they think they do, about what students go through. Why should they, considering that they are right-wing institutions by nature?

In short, they provide us with education (at a ‘stellar’ price, indeed) and definitely ‘safeguard’ your academic record as well as your certificate.

Therefore, no matter how much you owe and your ability to settle it, you need to make all payments. In fact, rescheduling them makes the matter worse because just like banks, they charge compounded interest on debt. TOJ

Writing by Gaby Ndongo. Editing by Magnificent Mndebele and Kupakwashe Kambasha. Feature image obtained Pixabay.

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