The Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST) yesterday reluctantly capitulated to student demands to abolish registration fees, in the process losing out on at least N$91 million it could have made in registration fees this year.
The decision followed an eleventh hour meeting with higher education minister Dr Itah Kandjii-Murangi, who allegedly directed that the decision to scrap registration fees also apply to the University of Namibia (Unam). By October last year, students owed Unam a total of N$43 million in unpaid fees.
Last year 13 000 students were enrolled at NUST, with the figure set to increase this year.
NUST was due to make at least N$3 500 in registration fees from each student per semester,but failed after students protested for more than 10 hours in front of its entrance where they also called for the writing off of all student debt.
NUST Vice-Chancellor Professor Tjama Tjivikua gave in to the students’ demands after consultations with Kandjii-Murangi at the last minute to allow students to register without any payment.
Supplementary examinations scheduled for yesterday had to be postponed indefinitely due to student protests. The Namibia National Students Organisation (Nanso), which joined yesterday’s protests, called on NUST to extend the supplementary examinations to cater for those who did not write.
Kandjii-Murangi could not comment on the matter when approached yesterday, saying: “I am in the middle of something very urgent related to that [student protests] so I cannot talk to you right now.”
A statement issued by Tjivikua yesterday reads: “Every student and admitted applicant will be allowed to register, whether or not they can afford the registration fee and tuition deposit, and whether or not they have settled their respective debts.”
The ministry of higher education, through the Namibia Student Financial Assistance Fund (NSFAF), pledged to cover the outstanding debts of current students – the statement said.
Addressing students, Tjivikua said their grievances had not reached the management of the institution.
Tjivikua wanted to have a meeting with the NUST SRC indoors but the students refused his offer.
“Your demands have not been brought to us officially, they have not been presented. Let us meet with the SRC of NUST,” said Tjivikua.
“Everything must be discussed in front of the students. It cannot be true that there is nothing that has been communicated to the vice-chancellor if there was a meeting on this issue last year, called by the minister. If nothing was communicated what have they been discussing?” questioned Nanso secretary general Dimbulukeni Nauyoma.
“We are not children. Either there is a highlight of what is to be discussed and we will select those who will go into the discussions.We cannot allow our people to be sold dreams like in the past,” he said.
Nauyoma who spoke on behalf of fellow students said their parents are no longer going to be subjected to having to go to loan sharks to lend money for registration. “It cannot be correct that some of your parents who are cleaners, police officers, soldiers and security guards with a mere salary can pay high fees. We are not at liberty of having parents with a lot of money. Last year’s student statistics have proven that over 5 000 NUST prospective students could not register because of the large amounts of money they were expected to pay. If 5 000 students could not access tertiary education, what is the hindrance to this – it’s registration fees!” Nauyoma reacted.
The students chanted “Fees must fall”, replicating the Fees Must Fall Movement in South Africa which took that country by storm last year. Protesting students, led by Nanso, surprised NUST staff – including vice-chancellor Tjivikua – who showed up for work yesterday, as all the entrances were locked with padlocks.
The police were called in to ensure safety, although students were not armed and nor were they unruly.
The Nanso leadership also threatened to proceed to Unam and the International University of Management (IUM) with the sole aim to demand zero increment for student registration fees.
The students locked the university’s gates around 2am, meaning some spent the night there. As Tjivikua approached the main gate the angry protesters literally pushed him back, saying he was not welcome.
Before the situation could get out of hand the police who were called to the scene escorted Tjivikua to his car, while students chanted “Tjivikua must go”.
The police threatened to forcefully remove the protestors by giving them 15 minutes to disperse but that did not happen after the time lapsed.
NUST hiked its fees in 2014.
Youth politicians from different political parties such as Swapo and the DTA also showed up to show solidarity with the protesting students.
Students made cash contributions to buy drinks and food for each other as they blocked the entrance to the newly proclaimed university.
The university’s academic opening is scheduled to take place today.