Threats by the University of Namibia (Unam) that it would nullify examination results for students who fail to settle their tuition fees by December 31 is most certainly unreasonable and possibly unlawful, outspoken human rights lawyer Norman Tjombe has said.
“The Unam rules and regulations also do not provide for such draconian process,” he said, adding that the normal recovery of a debt by the university should not become a permanent bondage for students.
He was responding to an agreement signed Wednesday with students that indebted students who have not settled their outstanding fees by December 31 would have their exams nullified and be forced to repeat the academic year.
Unam students earlier this week staged a two-day demonstration on campuses across the country, following an announcement by the university that those who fail to settle at least half their fee arrears would not be allowed to sit for examinations. Unam agreed – after cancelling examinations for two days – that it would enter into individual agreements with students who cannot pay their outstanding fees now and that the students be allowed to write their examinations. However, students who fail to settle their tuition fees by 31 December this year would have their examinations results nullified by the university, Unam’s Ndeshi Namhila, the pro-vice chancellor for administration, said.
However, Tjombe has said such actions would be tantamount to imposing a penalty on the defaulting students, which will be in violation of the Conventional Penalties Act and also be against public policy.
On Tuesday, Unam management took a last-minute decision to cancel all examinations scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday. Unam later said the collective student debt declined from a historic peak of N$255 million to N$145.39 million earlier in 2016, thus the university could allow more students to sit for their final exams.
Unam cancelled the scheduled exams, as students protested over the fact that many were not allowed into the exam venue due to outstanding tuition fees. The students – many of whom are deeply indebted – were protesting over what they called the “no pay, no exam” policy, which stipulates that those with outstanding fees are not allowed to write exams.
The protesting students demanded that Unam allow everyone to write and rather withhold the results until the students’ accounts have been settled in full. Unam’s examination policy states that students may not access exam venues without a timetable. Although many students were able to settle their outstanding fees in time, a handful of students were unable to.
The ballooning student debt comes after Unam, as well as the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST), in conjunction with the Ministry of Higher Education, agreed earlier this year to allow students to register without having to pay fees upfront, after thousands of students protested against what they considered excessively high tuition fees.