Cabinet has agreed that funding should be re-prioritised for the Department of Higher Education and Training to ensure that all National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas) deserving students will receive funding for the 2021 academic year.
Nsfas will now be able to release funding and the registration at public universities will be able to go ahead. The registration period has been extended till March 19. Nzimande also announced that a comprehensive review of the funding system will be undertaken by the department. They will then report back to the cabinet.
“Government is very concerned about student debt as are the universities.This is an issue that will also be considered as part of the policy review,” said Nzimande. Some demands relate to debt of students who have not been able to pay their debt but are doing well academically. The Minister will consult with universities on this, and that debt arrangements should be an option.
“Government should be able to provide free education for working class students and the ‘missing middle’,” Nzimande said.
The e minister will also engage with universities to ensure that final year students who are on track to graduate will be able to register for their final year with an acknowledgement of debt agreement.
Nzimande has called on universities to engage calmly with student leadership and make use of the mechanisms that exist to resolve issues amicably. “We cannot have disruptions for the 2021 academic year which is already starting later than usual due to the extension of the 2020 academic year and delayed senior certificate results,” he said.
Cabinet and Nzimande expressed their condolences to the family and friends of Mthokozisi Ntumba, a pedestrian who was killed by police during the protests this week. Government has urged the police to practise restraint during protests and to never use live ammunition. Nzimande said he has asked Wits University management and the law enforcement officers to provide an explanation on how the killing happened.
Nzimande said the department would be finalising the NSFAS bursary guidelines to be released as soon as possible. He emphasised that the core parameters of NSFAS funding is for students completing a first undergraduate qualification. Academic criteria must be met. Postgraduate studies and second degrees will not be funded.
On Wednesday, members of parliament (MPs) told Nzimande that he was not helping university students.
Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) MP Mthokozisi Nxumalo said, “One might even say you are incompetent to run the department because every year, none of the students are getting benefits from your office.”
Speaking during the parliamentary session Nzimande said he is in touch with all the universities – not just Wits university – “especially at this time of the year.” He said: “It doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem but don’t take that problem to mean everything is haywire.”
Reporting by Ling Shepherd and Fatima Moosa.