Last week I read about a former UCT student, Joseph Khohlokoane, who finished his degree in 1996 but only graduated on Friday, 7 June 2013 (17 years later) because he could not settle his outstanding fees and UCT withheld his degree. He has been working as a cleaner at a garage for the past 7 years. Before that, he had been working as a petrol attendant for 10 years. Apparently he could not find a job that pays better because he could not get his degree.
According to reports, Khohlokoane said he was hoping to get a better job now that he has graduated. After reading his story, I was very angry at UCT for withholding someone’s degree for so many years, denying him a chance to find a ‘good’ job. I even wrote an article about it to express my anger towards UCT and other institutions that do not allow students who have outstanding fees to graduate.
In one news website that reported about Khohlokoane’s story, one reader said “Shame on you, UCT”. Clearly, many people were angered by this story. However, this is because just like Khohlokoane, we (readers) were not well-informed. UCT responded to media reports and indicated that it does confirm a student’s qualification to potential employers even if the student has outstanding fees. Therefore, Khohlokoane, even though he had not yet attended the formal graduation ceremony, could have used his degree to apply for jobs commensurate with his level of education instead of ‘wasting’ 17 years waiting to graduate. Therefore, it is important for students to know that they can include their degrees in their CVs even if they have not yet been awarded to them due to outstanding fees.
UCT said, “We encourage students to seek guidance if they are struggling to pay the fee debt after qualifying. As an example, the Department of Higher Education and Training makes available some funding that, in certain cases, can assist students who have completed degrees but are unable to repay the financial commitments they agreed to.”