Johannesburg – Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, has responded to the demands submitted by the students’ leadership body, the South African Union of Students (SAUS), sent to his office on the 10th of March 2021.
Minister Nzimande commended the University of Western Cape for setting a good example in this regarding the clearance of historical debts for all students to ensure smooth registration. Financial clearance was part of the demands made by students to the Minister by SAUS.
Acccording to the Minister, the Department of Higher Education and Training is not in a financial position to be able to support institutions to clear all student debt of fee-paying students. The main reason for the latter is because of the difficult fiscal situation the government find itself in and all government departments, including the Department of Higher Education and Training, have been subject to budget reductions in 2020 and 2021 announced in the budget speech presented by Minister Tito Mboweni.
“I am aware that many institutions are doing what they can to assist students in need, and to allow them to make payment arrangements to be able to register, where this is possible. However, institutions also have to remain financially sustainable in order to continue to operate effectively, and financial decisions are made at the level of university councils”, said Dr. Nzimande.
Dr. Nzimande assured students in his response that the historic debt of NSFAS-qualifying students is being addressed through a process between NSFAS and institutions. NSFAS-qualifying students with historic debt are able to register when they sign an Acknowledgement of Debt (AOD) form, while the process is underway.
The response stressed that institutions also have to remain financially sustainable in order to continue to operate effectively, and financial decisions are made at the level of university councils.
He said that the matter of allocation of NSFAS funding for first time entering students (FTENs) or new students has been addressed, and the department has committed that first-time entering students will be able to register following the commitment to reprioritize funding from the Department of Higher Education and Training to address the NSFAS shortfall for 2021. SAUS had made a demand that all first years must be unblocked for registration whilst government is still resolving matters relating to student funding.
NSFAS is also addressing the issue of laptops to deserving students. The NSFAS Executive Officer reported that it has placed a first order for laptops, and these will be made available to students, in line with the agreed processes, as soon as they are available. NSFAS has indicated that the first deliveries will be made in April 2021.
NSFAS funding to students will only be released once students are registered and confirmed for funding. The Minister said “it is also important to note that NSFAS will receive its first tranche from the fiscus on 1 April 2021 in line with National Treasury’s processes’.
The Minister commented on the call for justice for the family of a person who was killed by police on the 10th of March 2021 at WITS University
“I am deeply distressed by the death of Mr Mthokozisi Ntumba in Braamfontein on 10 March. The issues relating to the police investigation into the matter will be dealt with by the Minister of Police.”
Nzimande has made a call that the issue of Postgraduate funding should be addressed this year. “This is an important matter that needs to be addressed in the policy review process that will be undertaken in 2021 by the Department of Higher Education and Training, as outlined in my media statement on 11 March 2021”.
According to the department, postgraduate funding is an issue that does require attention, as there is limited funding available from the National Research Foundation. However, in 2021, the new NRF policy does consider funding of students who were NSFAS recipients.