Home News Universities Dish Out Rejection Letters, Outcry Over Application Fees

Universities Dish Out Rejection Letters, Outcry Over Application Fees

by Zahid Jadwat

The University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, is among universities criticised for charging non-refundable application fees. It says, however, this is necessary for admissions processing. [Picture: Samuel Molepo]


Meeting the minimum requirements in the National Senior Certificate (NSC) exams, better known as matric exams, does not always guarantee a spot in South Africa’s stretched universities. But the non-refundable application fees at universities have drawn criticism from those who have been rejected.

A post on X (formerly Twitter) claimed that one university in particular, the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), charged an application fee of R200. This amount was non-refundable.

“@WitsUniversity received over 146 000 applications for academic year 2024,” wrote Apostle Deza, adding, “They can only accepted [sic] 6200 new students. This means 139 800 students will be rejected. All of them have paid an application fee of R200.”

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) member went on: “Wits university made a profit of R27 960 000 for rejecting people. Things like application fees are scams of the highest order. Capitalism is ruthless and evil”.

The University has since reported the “defamatory” post to the platform as well as its own legal department, said spokesperson Shirona Patel. She further clarified the application fee charged by the university was R100.


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Application fees

The Johannesburg-based institute was one of several in the country that charged a non-refundable application fee. This was done in order to facilitate the mammoth task of processing applications and with the approval of the department of higher education, it explained.

Said Patel: “The University employs hundreds of assistants, senior students and part-time staff to assist with the application, administration and orientation programmes at the beginning of the year. It is quite a task to process 145 000 applications”.

She also stated the “real issue” was that there were “too few public universities, TVET colleges, and further education and training facilities”. The country’s 26 public universities accommodated just over one million students in 2023, a fraction of which attended Wits.

“The University can only accommodate a maximum of 40 000 students as per the enrollment teaching and learning plans approved by Government,” she said, adding that the university enabled greater access through its short course and part-time offerings.


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Alternatives to oversubscribed universities

Unlike Stellenbosch University, Wits, the University of Pretoria, the University of Johannesburg and others, the North West University (NWU) does not charge an application fee. But the institute faces similar space constraints that force it to turn away a number of deserving applicants among the 180 000 eligible.

“We’re working according to an enrolment plan that’s been agreed upon with the Department of Higher Education and Training. It’s just not a matter of them not qualifying, but also due to the fact, unfortunately, we just cannot [accommodate them]. We can only accommodate so many and we cannot cross that figure because it would not only be unfair to the university, but also towards those students,” said spokesperson Louis Jacobs in an interview with Newzroom Afrika.

He said it was impossible for the university to make any exceptions, since the university is already oversubscribed before it can even begin assessing final results.

“We actually provisionally accept a lot more than that figure [11 700] because you automatically get your normal dropouts, students who have previously maybe met the minimum requirements [but] now with their final results they have not met those, or they decide to go to another institution, or they decide to take a gap year.

He suggested students still seeking placement should head to the Central Applications Clearing House or consider options other than university, like technical colleges.

Our calls and attempts for comment from the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and South African Union of Students (SAUS) on the matters of oversubscription and non-refundable application fees were met with silence.


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