REBECCA WOODROW
UP has a significant number of international students. According to the international students division page on UP’s website, there are “over 4500 international students at the University of Pretoria”. For any person studying through UP, fees are substantial, however, international students are subject to additional costs.

International students are subject to an international levy that was R2700 in 2016 in addition to the R5000 cost of registration, medical aid, visa expenses and travel costs. In the international students section under the fees and funding page on UP’s website it states, “Non-South African citizens (excluding students who are citizens of Southern African Development Community [SADC] countries) will be charged double the tuition fee of South African students.” However, there are exceptions: the local tuition fees apply for full research-orientated master’s or doctoral studies and “asylum seekers, refugees and diplomats stationed in South Africa, as well as permanent residents of South Africa only, are exempted from paying double tuition fees and are exempted from the international levy”.

In UP’s strategic plan for 2025 published in November 2011 one method of increasing the university’s international rankings is to “increase [the] number of international students at postgraduate levels”. UP’s strategic plan also highlighted goals for greater diversity which could be partly achieved through an increase in the percentage of international students.

Theresa Muzondo, chairperson of University of Pretoria International (UPI), an association at UP that intends to offer international students a support system during their studies in South Africa issued a statement “consisting of our issues and concerns as international students during this time” which was also communicated with deans and the International Student Department (ISD). According to the statement, “University of Pretoria International (UPI) strongly [believe] that the country and its institutions are in Higher Education crisis.” Muzondo explained, “It is in these times of crisis that the international student is often an afterthought, neglected or ignored.” UPI is concerned with the potential rise in fees for students who are citizens of countries outside of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) who currently pay double the cost of local fees at undergraduate level. The statement also emphasised that “short notice announcements leave international students in limbo and uncertainty in regard to accommodation in residences” and that “international students should not be made to pay extra fees if they have to stay in the residences for an extended period”. Another financial concern is funding on student meal card running out if students have to stay for an extended period.

The status of international student within South Africa is also vulnerable during this time: “If the University of Pretoria persists in rescheduling the academic program, study permits for international students will expire … This would be catastrophic for international students, as they face the risk of deportation and being left stranded.”

Concluding the statement, UPI states international students should be considered “a recognized interest group with proper representation” and has called on the government, UP management, students and other stakeholders across South Africa to “show decisive and responsible leadership” during this time.

Speaking to Perdeby, Lindsey Burgess, a fourth-year veterinary student said, “As an international student from a SADC country, I am not required to pay double tuition, however, at the beginning of each year I am required to follow an unblocking process before I am allowed to register for the year. For most people this is a simple process of filling out the online forms, but for us there is a rather frustrating process of resubmitting half a dozen forms and paying the international levy before we can continue registering.”

Third-year LLB student and Zimbabwean citizen, Tonderai Matanda said, “I only recently renewed my study visa for a further two years. A point of concern for me and many others is the salvaging of the academic year, so as to avoid logistical problems down the line such as expiry of study visas before completion of our programs.” Matanda went on to say although he supported the call for free tertiary education that “International Students, who constitute a minority at the university, will often not have their concerns and well-being taken into account … I would also like to understand how this would affect International Students, most of whom come from regional countries that have lesser economies than South Africa. Unfortunately, this year, that has not been made clear and has led to great anxiety, I’m certain, among International Students such as myself.”

A third-year BEng Civil Engineering student from Lesotho who requested to remain anonymous said, “ I think that in this whole process the international students are being neglected, because now if say fees do fall, what would that mean for us, do we have to be the only one’s who pay fees or what’s going to happen and how will our fees be determined and what will these hectic increases each year mean for us, because as it stands, I feel international students are not well represented on campus. The SRC is doing nothing for international students in terms of finances. We had a meeting with the past SRC member for international students, which he had called, where we laid all our grievances before him, especially with regard to the Fees Must Fall movement that took place last year. This was Friday 13 May 2016. Even to date, I have not heard any feedback with regard to the meeting unless it went to UPI and I do no not know about it. I personally feel international students are being overlooked or sidelined in all that is being done.”

SRC member with the portfolio of international and postgraduate students, Benjamin Ho said that the International Student Association of South Africa (ISASA) has engaged with the Minster of Home Affairs, Malusi Gigaba, and the documentaion needed as well as time limits for 2017 applications have been relaxed. If students are unable to complete the academic year due to protests the ISD will provide a letter stating that their studies have been extended which can be presented to Home Affairs whan applying for a study visa.

Ho further said that there is a misconception that all international students come from weathly backgrounds, but this is not the case. He said the international students at UP are very well integrated into student life, and therefore have similar views to South African students, with most supporting the call for free, quality decolonised education.

Photo: Lerato Makoka.

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