Sheer frustration, lengthy queues and heat exhaustion did not deter thousands of student hopefuls who embarked on walk-ins at various universities across South Africa in a quest to get free education yesterday.
But many were left standing in scorching heat and didn’t gain entry.
This followed the Economic Freedom Fighters’ call to students to present themselves at universities to register, rather than using the online late application systems – one of which crashed at the University of Johannesburg (UJ).
But those queuing at UJ were undeterred, saying they would return today.
With some students sheltering from the heat under umbrellas, they demanded that management inform them of the processes. Management, however, was nowhere to be seen.
According to the students, one female in the queue fainted from heat exhaustion and was taken away by ambulance.
Meanwhile, the EFF Student Command tweeted that various universities were allowing walkins. But Ahmed Bawa, CEO of Universities South Africa, a membership organisation representing universities, said this was not the case.
After universities met yesterday, it was decided that institutions that still have places “would try and address the needs of the students”.
“And if not, they will provide the facilities for the students to connect with the central applications system,” Bawa said.
“So, the idea is very much to try to give students a fair chance of getting into the university system if they qualify. It is not walkins per se. In fact, they are not reopening applications. It’s only where places in programmes have not been taken and are available that consideration will be given.”
The portfolio committee on higher education and training welcomed “the policy shift in government”, following President Jacob Zuma’s announcement late last year that poor students would get free tertiary education.
“The decision by government echoes, in part, the constitution that states that the state, through reasonable means, must make higher education accessible. “It is our duty to hold government accountable and we will make further recommendations to ensure the sustainability of the policy,” said committee chairperson Connie September.
“The committee will double its oversight efforts and make sure skills development, equity redress and participation in tertiary colleges is doubled.”
Scholarships and bursaries must be offered to needy students “to ensure the nation has enriched human resources”.
September added that education played a major role in the development of the moral fibre of society and empowered people to develop the nation.
The committee noted with appreciation that some universities had already taken steps to accommodate deserving students and urged technical vocational education and training (TVET) colleges to do the same.
“The committee is particularly happy with the focus on the TVET college sector. The policy shift must enable changes in curricula that do not speak to society’s needs and do not translate into innovation. “The increase in government contribution to higher education as a percentage of GDP is one of the ways to address the underfunding problem, as our report suggested.”
She said the committee must be briefed if it was necessary to change legislation to facilitate the policy.
– firstname.lastname@example.org Additional reporting: Chisom Jenniffer Okoye and Sanele Gumada.