Nzimande discusses student concerns with USAF
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.