Recent unrest sparked by a few students at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and at other universities about inadequate NSFAS funding have brought the question of support for students into sharp focus. In a country where the vast majority of tertiary students cannot afford university education, NSFAS is a very important student financial aid intervention.
Though key, the relationship between universities and NSFAS must not be conflated. In terms of the current regulations, universities administer funds according to NSFAS guidelines on behalf of NSFAS. This year, as with previous years, universities did not receive sufficient funds to assist all students who qualify for NSFAS funding.
This is at the heart of the problem. In this regard student protest action directed at universities is misdirected. Violent protest actions in which property, university processes, staff and students become targets of violence are no longer protest but criminal behaviour which has no place in a democracy.
The University of Johannesburg does more than most to support NSFAS students in general but especially those affected by yearly NSFAS shortfalls.
In 2014 for example, UJ received under R309 million from NSFAS for distribution to NSFAS students. At UJ this is inadequate for all the students needing and qualifying for NSFAS aid. This is before we add the money owed the university by NSFAS for the 2013 academic year.
From its own funds, UJ will in 2014 contribute nearly R110 million to provide various means of support to students. This amount is more than 30% of the money received from NSFAS.
This is how, UJ’s R110 million own contribution will be roughly distributed and spent in 2014: R25 million will augment the inadequate NSFAS funding; R22 million will be used to assist final year students without funding including (NSFAS students included); R30 million will be disbursed to qualifying students through various bursaries located in our nine faculties; R14 million will be spent on the intercampus bus service which enables students to travel between our four campuses; R10 million will be spent on a meal assistance programme that sees more than 2000 students given two decent meals daily (thanks to the Gift of the Givers for collaborating with UJ on this programme), a further R 600 000 for an additional feeding scheme for needy students; as well as R7 million for an SRC Trust Fund managed and distributed by the SRC to help students in need.
Significantly, UJ recognises that students need more than financial support. We know that by improving the quality of life of students we also improve their chances for success.
Over and above the finance-orientated assistance illustrated above, the university provides innovative support programmes to students designed to help them make a success of their studies. The UJ First Year Experience Programme (FYE), with the emphasis on 1 285 student tutors mentoring fellow students, is designed to assist the school-to-university transition so that students can hit the ground running, as it were. As part of the UJ’s Academic Excellence Programmes, 250 trained student advisors will be assisting first-year students in 28 UJ residences.
In the South African Institute for Chartered Accountants’ (SAICA) Initial Test of Competence (ITC) results for 2013, UJ obtained an 90% pass rate. Of the 2013 successful candidates that passed the SAICA test at UJ, 47% are black. Due to interventions such as these, the success rate for first-time entering undergraduate students was an impressive 81.6% in 2013.
In total, UJ graduates more than 11 thousand undergraduate students, more than 400 Master’s students and more than 100 doctoral students. A Student Employability Survey conducted by UJ’s Division for Institutional Planning, Evaluation and Monitoring has shown that 95% of UJ students find employment within twelve months of completing their studies with UJ.
The university has received significant international accolades for its effort. Last year, the authoritative QS World University Rankings ranked UJ among the top 4% of universities in the world – placing 600-650 of 16,500 universities – and among the top 1% of universities in the BRICS countries, that is Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – placing 61st among this economic bloc’s 6,200 universities.
The URAP rankings that focus solely on research output, research impact and global research collaboration, place UJ among the top ten universities in Africa. Any wonder UJ is also the only African university that is admitted to the highly respected consortium of 28 research-intensive universities in the world – Universitas 21.
All of these impressive accomplishments are the result of strategic investments the university has been making to ensure a world-class student experience, research, innovation as well as teaching and learning.