In light of the Covid-19 pandemic’s detrimental effects on economies around the world, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) have called for all historic student debts and registration fees for 2021 to be waived.
This, they said in a statement on Friday, was to allow for all students to be allowed to register, regardless of any money owned to universities and colleges.
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a detrimental impact on the economy of South Africa and ultimately this has affected the higher learning education sector.”
The party explained that students reliant on businesses and corporate firms to subsidise their studies have lost much of their funding, resulting in fee-paying parents having to bear “the burden of broader economic challenges in a climate where jobs are being lost and their places of employment are retrenchment staff.”
They said that charging students to attend higher learning institutions was “already an inhumane barrier to the doors of education”, but that insisting that students pay fees during the pandemic “is pure cruelty”.
“In the same way that we have called for payment holidays on rentals, house and car repayments, we call on government to exercise compassion and a sense of value for education as a social good by freezing student debt.”
The EFF said it would write to Universities South Africa and the Department of Higher Education, Science and Technology to register all students, regardless of whether they owe any money.
They said the call will be followed by the party tabling a “Students’ Debt Cancellation Private Member Bill”, to allow students access to all transcripts, to help with job opportunities, and assistance in furthering their studies.
“There has never been a time where education has been more important than today, when we need scholars from all spheres of life to be developed and contribute to the need to reconfigure society as we know it, after the surge of the deadly Corona Virus.
“Free education must be the ultimate goal if we are to achieve any semblance of economic and social development and the EFF reaffirms its commitment to this objective, and to achieve it by any means necessary.”
Some universities will be conducting first semester lectures online, while others plan on reopening campuses.
The University of the Witwatersrand will commence its 2021 academic calendar on 8 March, while the University of Johannesburg reopened in January for contact sessions.
The Tshwane University of Technology will see a combination of remote learning and practical sessions.
Universities South Africa executive director Professor Ahmed Bawa said the biggest task for higher learning institutions in 2021 would be to ensure support for first-year students, especially those from rural schools.
It is not yet known how student accommodation will be arranged, as shared rooms in residences are not permitted due to Covid-19. In addition, landlords have been hit hard by Covid-19, as well as the construction sector.
The country has struggled with a shortage of student accommodation for years.