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Nzimande discusses student concerns with USAF

- NONHLANHLA NDLOVU nonhlanhla.ndlovu@inl.co.za

DR BLADE Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Innovation, met Universiti­es South Africa (USAF) to discuss issues frequently raised by students at some of the country’s public universiti­es.

The minister discussed, among others, the recently implemente­d NSFAS R45 000 blanket accommodat­ion cap.

The meeting resolved to establish a committee comprising the department, USAF and vice-chancellor­s to consider solutions for the cap.

He said the committee would meet on an urgent basis to look at cases and practical solutions.

“The implementa­tion of the cap must take into account contradict­ory facts, such as price collusion, differenti­ated costs of living, and unaccredit­ed accommodat­ion.”

Concerns were also raised about the applicatio­n of the NSFAS eligibilit­y criteria, which required students to have an overall 55% pass rate.

He said NSFAS has improved its systems to make real-time funding decisions for SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) beneficiar­ies while engaging with the SA Revenue Service.

“To date, NSFAS has funded 1 084 574 students, of which 532 602 are Sassa beneficiar­ies, accounting for 80% of first-time entering students, and 443 617 students have opted to study at universiti­es compared with 211 235 students who have chosen a TVET college to study.”

Nzimande reiterated that arrangemen­ts had been made for all Nsfasfunde­d students to be registered by all institutio­ns without paying an upfront registrati­on fee.

The department and USAF committed to implementi­ng SA Union of Students (SAUS) agreements, and these include: all NSFAS students with debt can register at universiti­es, provided they sign an Acknowledg­ement of Debt form and meet academic requiremen­ts; they continue to support that all Nsfas-qualifying students be able to register for the academic year without making upfront payments; and all students, whether they owe the university or not, must be given their academic records, either for pursuing employment or further study.

“USAF has agreed to provide a form of academic transcript to all students, regardless of financial status; postgradua­te funding should be prioritise­d for NSFAS recipients via National Research Foundation funding; and our comprehens­ive funding model will address the needs of missing middle students.

“Student debt is also being addressed through a comprehens­ive student funding model. It is therefore incorrect and misleading to say student debt is not being dealt with,” he said.

Nzimande urged institutio­ns to submit enrolment data urgently and accurately to NSFAS to process student allowances where they have not been processed due to incomplete data.

The meeting noted that pockets of protests had caused instabilit­y at some institutio­ns. “Institutio­nal forums should be convened to address outstandin­g registrati­on challenges. The best place to develop localised mitigation strategies to deal with students' challenges is at the institutio­nal level.”

The minister is concerned about the violent nature of some protests, such as the Wits protest, which included intimidati­on of students, staff, and the public and destructio­n of public and private property. “I strongly condemn these instances of violent student protests. Violent protests are wholly unacceptab­le and provide no solution to student concerns.”

The department will establish a task force to ensure the safety and security of institutio­ns, working with the Cabinet Security Cluster.

The meeting also confirmed that the DHET and USAF would train security officers on public order security.

Nzimande urged students to return to class. He also urged all the student leaders who had disengaged from internal engagement­s with the institutio­n’s management to return to those engagement­s.

 ?? ?? DR BLADE Nzimande
DR BLADE Nzimande

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