‘Reckless’ Lovedale college lets students down

Students at the Eastern Cape TVET college say their return to campus after its Covid-19 closure has been blighted by health risks, late NSFAS payments and an unresponsive management.

A lack of sanitiser to limit the spread of Covid-19, poor sanitation in residences, allegations of shoddy management and the toxic air of student resentment are just some of the challenges facing Lovedale Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) College in the Eastern Cape.

Student Lungile Mpose, 25, is deeply disappointed by the institution’s management. “Lovedale TVET College is playing games with us,” he said. “Classes resumed because we are scared to lose the academic year. But our campus is not ready for students. For example, mounted sanitisers are not working. As a result, we are not sanitising our hands at all.”

Mpose is a second-year student in the N5 management assistant course and lives in a college residence on the satellite campus in Alice. He is unhappy about poor communication from the college administration. “Our management doesn’t communicate with us. They take decisions and don’t want to be questioned.”

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Lutho Kalawe, 23, a final-year student in the N6 financial management course, says the college’s management is unresponsive to students’ concerns. “I feel like they [management] do not care. We have to protest for them to listen to us,” he says, adding that management is failing students. 

Citing late payouts from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), toilets that are out of order and poor Wi-Fi connection, among other issues, students recently went on strike at Lovedale. According to Kalawe, management was informed about these problems affecting students as early as 2017, yet it has never provided clear answers. “Lovedale vaguely tells students about ‘supply chain’, ‘the contractor’, ‘pipeline’ and that a ‘submission was made’,” he said.    

Poor infrastructure for students

Student Maqhawe Madlala, 22, was among the first students to return when the campus reopened on 25 June after months of closure owing to the Covid-19 outbreak. Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology Blade Nzimande said a third of students should be on campus while the rest receive online tutoring. Madlala says they have three days of contact lectures a week while the other two are supposed to be used for online learning. But, he claims, no online learning has taken place since his return. “It’s going to be a very big hindrance in terms of us covering our syllabus.” 

Madlala is a second-year student in the N6 business studies course and also lives in the residence. He is “angry” to know that management “lied to us”, he says, because student representatives were told that management would ensure the students are “protected and safe from the virus” when the campus reopened. But this has not happened. “We did not have sanitisers mounted on the wall. No water tanks. It was just security guards carrying the sanitisers. Management is failing to carry out its duties. We have water tanks but they don’t have water inside so that we can frequently wash our hands.”

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The students also note that some toilets and cooking stoves are not in working order. “Some showers don’t even have showerheads and our bathrooms are not cleaned frequently,” said Madlala.

Another issue is the 5pm curfew* that Lovedale imposed when the students returned to campus following its temporary closure. “It’s not making sense. They need us inside the campus before 5pm. We need to be ‘safe’ from the virus… We are like prisoners here,” said Kalawe.

By 7pm, all students who live in residences are expected to be in their rooms. “The curfew is an inconvenience to us because we can’t even go and cook in the kitchen after 7pm. Bear in mind that only three or four cooking stoves are working,” said Madlala. 

To cope with the lack of stoves, some students have resorted to cooking in their rooms, which is against the rules. “I bought myself a two-burner stove and I hide it under the bed,” said one of them. “If the matron sees it, she will take it away from me because we are not allowed to have cooking stoves in our rooms.” 

Madlala says there are always many students queuing to cook in the kitchen and it lacks measures to ensure their health and safety. “The kitchen is not safe. It doesn’t have wipes and sanitisers. You have to disinfect the surface before using it. I don’t trust the kitchen,” he said. “What is happening at this college, the management is being reckless.”

On 9 June, Nzimande said institutions of higher learning must comply with Covid-19 regulations when residences on campuses reopen. “I would like to urge all our institutions to ensure that at all material times they follow the national guidelines when deciding on the return of students to residences in line with numbers that can be accommodated to enable physical distancing, the handling of communal spaces, hygiene requirements and dining hall arrangements.”

NSFAS allowance late

The late payment of NSFAS allowances is another headache for some students. “I have not received the NSFAS allowance for June, July and August,” said Mpose. “Management told us they will pay us later on.” But, he points out, this leaves students who rely on these payments anxious and stranded as “later on” could mean anything. Meanwhile, he is unable to ask his family for financial support. “I am from a poor background. My mother is unable to support me. She is a grant beneficiary. Sometimes, I run out of things to eat. I can’t study when I am hungry.”

Kalawe received his NSFAS allowance in May, the June payment came late in July, and he has not received payment for July and August – and the college has not communicated with students about why these allowances have not been paid. “There are days when I go to sleep without eating proper food,” said Kalawe, adding that his family is dependent on a social grant and he sends some of his NSFAS allowance home to help them out.

On 8 July, Nzimande made an announcement on the measures that had been implemented in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and its effect on students. “We have started with some initiatives like laptops and data to students,” he said. This followed on his promise at the end of April that NSFAS-funded students would be “provided with digital devices to support their learning in 2020 during the Covid-19 lockdown and when they return to campuses”.

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But Madlala, who also receives funding from NSFAS, says students have not received either data or laptops. Even if Lovedale could start with online learning, he says, the delay in receiving the devices and data would put students at a disadvantage. 

Kalawe says management told students they would receive tablets and not laptops, as indicated by Nzimande, and that data would not be provided. “This is very painful because the senior management told us we won’t get it [data] because the college cannot not afford it … About the laptops, they said it might not be a laptop, it can be tablets and the college is waiting for the Department of Higher Education and Training [now the Department of Higher Education, Science and Technology] about them.” 

Students simply don’t have resources, says Mpose, and management must “ensure internet connectivity for all students before the implementation of e-learning”.

He is disappointed not just in Lovedale’s management, but also the education department. “We have been waiting and our ministry is failing the college sector. Since May, we are still waiting for procurement while online resumes. It’s painful.” 

Lovedale college and the department had failed to respond to questions by the time of publication.

*The curfew was lifted on 4 August.

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