Nelson Mandela University remains resolute in its commitment to creating enabling conditions to ensure student access and success for all students, particularly those from poor and working class backgrounds.
The University has welcomed, and supports Government’s initiative to provide fee-free education to the poor and working class through the Department of Higher Education and Training’s first year bursary, as well as on-going financial support to senior students through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).
Since the centralisation of the NSFAS applications that sees it liaising directly with students, the University has had little, if any, control on financial aid disbursements beyond distributing approved students’ tuition and accommodation allocations from the financial aid scheme.
It was for this reason that the University had been struggling to establish the extent to which students were affected by the delay in the allocation of funding support from NSFAS.
Given the increasing number of complaints from students here and at higher education institutions across the country, members of the University’s Financial Aid team joined colleagues from other universities and colleges at a three-day workshop organised by NSFAS in Cape Town over a week ago. This, in a bid to iron out funding allocation challenges with the financial aid scheme. It was then estimated that as many as 4 000 Mandela University students may have been affected in various ways by the financial aid shortfalls.
Recognising the challenges to the smooth implementation of the national financial aid mechanisms, the University has been working hard towards solving these challenges, including continuous liaison with NSFAS.
To assist NSFAS funded students who were still awaiting their meals, book and transport allowances, the University resolved to provide emergency financial support, , building on to its existing financial aid support interventions.
Outlined below are the numerous interventions to date towards addressing some of the prevailing student issues, as well as its plans going forward.
Since the advent of the #FeesMustFall students’ campaign towards the end of 2015, the University has numerous interventions in place to support academically deserving yet financially needy students to enable access to higher education
These interventions include:
- Providing loan funding to those students who would have qualified for NSFAS funding to contribute towards accommodation, meals and books. In 2016, this loan funding of R21 million benefitted 1531 students
- Allowing access to more than 5000 “missing middle” students through various mechanisms such as down payment relief and debt rollover.
- By the end of 2017, the financial aid support system, both from the University and NSFAS, had been managed in close consultation with the students through the Financial Aid Task Team.
- However, in 2018 there were delays in the timeous release of allowances from NSFAS and related national sources of financial support for qualifying students following the Government’s announcement of fee-free higher education for students from poor and working class backgrounds.
Recognising the apparent shortcomings in the smooth implementation of these national financial aid mechanisms, the University developed the following internal mechanisms to assist students in 2018:
Last week, the University made emergency funds available to support NSFAS students who had not yet received their allowances for books, meals and transport, and had begun loading these onto the qualifying beneficiaries’ student cards. This emergency funding, initially to the tune of R38.3-million, was committed to support those students it knew to have qualified for the loan funding or bursary support but had not yet received the allowances due to them.
As this funding was being disbursed, the financial aid scheme began paying out the necessary allowances. The emergency funding balance has been reduced to about R10-million, but a number of Education students are still awaiting support for their meal allowances.
Earlier this year, the University gave financial support to 6 199 students, from 7488 applications for funding assistance, while they awaited their NSFAS funding. Of the 6 199 assisted, 1 700 were found to qualify for NSFAS funding and their applications forwarded to the financial aid scheme.
Arrangements were also made to provide financial assistance to postgraduate students from University coffers in the form of an allowance that they could use at their discretion for meals, accommodation or transport needs.
The University, through its Financial Aid office, has gone to painstaking lengths to liaise with the national financial aid scheme and related entities for qualifying students to receive what is due to them and will continue these engagements until all outstanding issues are ironed out.
The University’s drive to widen access to higher education, while also rewarding excellent academic and sport excellence, has over the years seen it actively rally funds to help academically deserving students pursue their academic careers through the Strategic Resource Mobilisation Office, formerly known as the Nelson Mandela University Trust. Financial support received from a variety of funders through this office has increased by almost tenfold, from about R10million in 2009 to R94million in 2017. Last year’s funding benefitted more than 2000 recipients.
Student Nutritional Support:
Cognisant of the effects that the delay on the issuing of allowances has on student nutrition, Campus Health Services has this year issued about 4 500 food parcels to indigent students. This through a memorandum of understanding with an external provider for a monthly provision of 1100 meal packs, which had to stretched due to the increased demand as a result of the delayed allowance payment.
Assisted students included those awaiting their NSFAS allowances, those residing in off-campus accommodation, those who were not yet loaded on the system and those qualifying for debt relief.
An integrated approach to addressing student nutrition, which has been identified as a major challenge, is also being worked out in the form of a food bank in collaboration with the Student Representative Council’s (SRC) My Mandela campaign.
An academic support plan has been devised by the Deans of all the faculties to assist all students – particularly those who have been negatively affected by lack of access to learning materials, meals and transport – to succeed academically.
The University is researching the revision of admission requirements in line with national recommendations. Students are involved in the relevant decision-making structures through the SRC.
The number of students needing transport to, from and between campuses has increased over the years in a manner proportional to the widened access to higher education, particularly for students from poorer backgrounds.
The University’s support in this regard has therefore accordingly expanded in an effort to meet the demand.
In 2005, there was just one 60-seater bus and two x 22-seaters. By 2012, support had grown to seven buses, two 22-seaters and one 10-seater vehicle.
As a result of government’s announcement of fee-free education for students from poor and working class backgrounds, the University has seen a 60% increase in students staying at accredited off-campus accommodation this year – resulting in the forecasted demand for transport far outweighing the actual supply.
Last week, University management approved an additional budget of R6.1-million towards an additional four buses and 10 taxis for its students in Port Elizabeth, bringing the total number of buses to 20 and taxis to 63.
An additional two smaller vehicles and one bus were approved for George Campus, to include the Thembalethu/Pacaltsdorp route.
Safety and Security
Noted improvements to the University’s overall safety environment have been made through the Safety and Security Task Team’s initiatives. These include, on an operational level, improvements in access monitoring at the University entrances, the establishment of green routes and visible patrols by Protection Services staff around campuses, among others.
The University’s Protection Services have also formed partnerships with rapid response and law enforcement agencies such as Atlas and the South African Police Service in Humewood and Algoa Park to assist with patrols around the Summerstrand and Missionvale campuses.
The University has been working on a comprehensive safety and security strategy. Towards this, an independent risk assessment across the University’s seven campuses has been completed, resulting in a series of safety and security improvements being implemented in a phased approach in line with an approved safety and security plan.
Identified areas of concern
The following were identified as risk areas:
- Inadequate fencing.
- Poor access control.
- Inefficient lighting for security purposes.
- No real-time response to criminal activities.
- Poor CCTV monitoring due to a lack of training of personnel in this regard.
- Limited communication options for security personnel.
- Inadequate security training.
- Lack of vigilance and awareness among staff and students.
- Interventions to combat the aforementioned areas and vastly improve security will see a combination of technology-based solutions and stakeholder engagement drive implementation of the plan. This strategic integrated, pro-active approach will offer a preventative approach to safety and security, rather than the present, largely reactive culture.
In short, a holistic integrated approach towards providing a safer environment for all staff, students and visitors to our campuses in Port Elizabeth and George is in the making.
The University acknowledges that no single intervention will offer an overnight solution to tackling crime and other societal ills like gender-violence, which remain a national challenge. However, with each improvement, the University is confident that, with time and resources, it will achieve its goal of safer campuses.
A number of interventions towards efforts to curb gender-based violence on campus have been implemented in the last few months.
These include, but are not limited to, training of relevant University stakeholder in terms of Safe Zones and first responder training, with more training sessions planned going forward
A coordinated plan around Gender-Based Violence has been set up and includes representatives from student counselling, residences, Protection Services and the office for Transformation, Monitoring and Evaluation (TME). This annual plan will become a standard collaborative project between these units to utilise resources more effectively for greater impact.
GBV cases currently under investigation are being dealt with in accordance with the revised policy, where a trauma counsellor now forms part of the disciplinary panel and the process is being conducted in a manner that prevents direct contact between the survivor and the alleged perpetrator. As the process is being implemented, more refinements will be introduced
For harassment and discrimination complaints, a budget has been approved to appoint an independent investigator on a retainer basis
In recognition of the work that has already been done and all that is continuing, the University is of the view that these do not constitute grounds for protests that leads to a shutdown of the University. That said, it does not take away the right of students to protest, provided that it is peaceful, does not infringe on the constitutional rights of others and does not transgress the laws of the country
Various protocols, task teams and committees have been established to continuously engage with students and the relevant external stakeholders to address outstanding concerns.