STATEMENT TO THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY ON THE BEGINNING OF THE ACADEMIC YEAR 2020

3rd March 2020

Honourable Chairperson
Honourable Members
Cabinet Colleagues present
Deputy Minister, Honourable Bhuti Manamela
Members of the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology, led by Honourable Chairperson, Mr Philly Mapulane

The purpose of this Ministerial Statement is to inform the house about the state of readiness for our new academic year, the challenges and actions we are taking.

 

On the 11th February, I interacted with students and staff at the NSFAS walk-in centre. I also had the pleasure of personally calling and informing two TVET college students of their successful NSFAS applications.

The voices of joy however on being told that their NSFAS applications had been approved are still ringing in my ears. This is indeed the experience of hundreds of thousands of NSFAS beneficiaries under this ANC government.

From the 21st January 2020, I initiated and held briefing sessions with a variety of stakeholders to brief them about our state of readiness for the 2020 academic year.

Our briefings included SRCs led by the South African Union of Students, (SAUS), student organisations, political parties, trade unions, representatives of university vice-chancellors, TVET college principals, the South African Local Government Association (SALGA), faith-based organisations, and traditional leaders, amongst others.

I am grateful for the support and cooperation that I received from these stakeholders. Out of these briefings and subsequent engagements we produced a framework for institutions to handle the registration process and start of the academic year relatively successfully, hence most of our universities and colleges have started with the academic year smoothly.
Prior to these consultations, I had released a public statement on the 16th January 2020, outlining opportunities available at our public institutions in the PSET sector, particularly opportunities for the 2019 matriculants.

Honourable Chairperson,

The year 2020 marks the first academic year of the decade, and in the previous decade we have indeed laid a solid foundation, through a number of significant achievements and advances, for a thriving and responsive post-school education and training system.
These include the establishment of three new universities and the building of a number of TVET college campuses and skills centres. These are amongst the first new institutions in post-apartheid South Africa.

As the ANC government we are indeed proud of the fact that we will be spending R35bn in 2020 through NSFAS, supporting over 700 000 students in both universities and TVET colleges.

ANC policy support working class and poor students whose combined family income is not more than R350 000 per annum. Students with disabilities qualify for NSFAS if they come from families earning up to R600 000 per annum, to make support even easier for them.

NSFAS supports students to acquire a first undergraduate qualification and does not fund postgraduate students. Given the legacy of inequality it is only fair that priority be given to those who do not have an undergraduate qualification.

On my instruction, I have asked the National Research Foundation to come up with a funding strategy for post graduates that considers NSFAS graduates who immediately proceed to post graduate study. However, funding of post graduate studies is based purely on availability of funds. I will continue to seek more funding for post graduate studies for the good of our system and economy.

For all qualifying contact university students, NSFAS pays for tuition fees, accommodation, food allowance, learning materials allowance and an amount for personal care for 10 of the 12 months of the calendar year. For TVET college students about 95 percent receive free tuition with different types of allowances, where required and feasible, for travel and accommodation.

All NSFAS qualifying students do not have to pay any upfront registration fees and, if they have debt, they do not have to pay upfront but only to sign acknowledgment of debt.

For 2020, the sector’ wide agreement has been on an inflation-linked university tuition fee increase for 2020 of 5.4% and 7.4% for accommodation fees.

In 2017 and 2018 we also provided support to poor and missing middle students through the fee adjustment or “gap” grant for students in the family income category of up to R600 000.

One of the biggest achievements by NSFAS is that for the first time ever, (at the beginning of this year) all applications that were received between September and November 2019 were processed, and applicants informed through the applicants’ ‘myNSFAS’ accounts.

For the first time NSFAS applicants knew of their situation before the start of the 2020 academic year, thus significantly easing the registration process, an important part to a smooth start of the academic year.

From 2018, we started implementing the new NSFAS bursary scheme for all those students from families earning up to R350 000 per annum. This is now  a bursary that is no longer to be paid back. All we expect is for students to grab this opportunity with both hands and work hard to pass.

Due to the inadequacy of the systems to manage NSFAS in TVET colleges, we have allowed walk ins. In addition, NSFAS has employed dedicated capacity to assist TVET colleges. About 95% of all TVET college students qualify for, and mostly receive, NSFAS.

Due to our commitment to fight against fraud and corruption, we unravelled a total irregular expenditure in the NSFAS system which amounted to R4.3 billion. This is part of our commitment to eliminate fraud and other forms of corruption in the system and to nail the culprits on this score.

This is part of my determination to fight against corruption and maladministration, whether in NSFAS, universities, colleges or SETAs.

STUDENT HOUSING

Honourable Chairperson

Through the Student Housing Infrastructure Programme (SHIP), we are currently developing large projects comprising of 7 273 new beds  at a number of universities and we have six housing projects the pipeline where feasibility studies will be undertaken in 2020.

Our system still use private accommodation. We have agreed with all our institution to accredit provide accommodation to ensure that they are see habitable for student accommodation.

During this year I will be appointing a Ministerial Task Team on infrastructure to amongst other things assist me in developing a comprehensive student accommodation strategy and closely supervise the infrastructure projects in the whole of the PSET sector.

It will be necessary in 2020 to establish a forum where private accommodation provision, norms and standards, costs, safety, university accreditation processes, and the link with NSFAS funding, can be discussed. This may have to be supported by further research and engagement.

This will greatly be assisted by the R64 billion rands as announced by the President in SONA, with the aim of raising a further R64billion rands through private sector participation, over the next ten years.  This will take us a long way towards addressing student housing needs.

I must indicate that, following engagements with universities, we have agreed that university students who are only able to access single-use accommodation that is not formally accredited, will be able to access support for this accommodation, subject to the provision of a lease agreement, and subject to the verification processes at institutions. As we move forward we will extend this arrangement to TVET Colleges.

In this regard we are seeking to protect students from exploitation, prevent fraud, and ensure that funding is directed to support the appropriate costs and quality of accommodation as far as possible.

CAMPUS SAFETY AND GENDER BASED VIOLENCE

Honourable Members

As the Minister, I am concerned about campus safety and particularly what seems to be increased incidents of gender-based violence. I once more wish to express our condolences to all the families who have lost student relatives in both our universities and colleges.

Our institutions are places of teaching, learning and positive socialisation and should therefore be safe spaces for all students and staff.

To achieve this objective requires multiple levels of intervention involving not only the Ministry and Department, but institutions, students, staff, community stakeholders and other government departments. The first intervention by my Ministry has focused on tightening the policy framework to enable us to deal more effectively with gender-based and other forms of violence on our campuses.

We have now finalised the Policy Framework on Gender-Based Violence for the post-school sector, and will shortly be tabling it before Cabinet for final approval.

This policy will guide the whole sector in its management of and response to gender-based violence.


STUDENT PROTESTS

Honourable members

The beginning of this academic year has also been marked by some violent student protests at a number of universities and TVET Colleges in the country, including, but not only restricted to the Universities of KwaZulu Natal, North West, Fort Hare, Orbit College and Tshwane South College and of late University of Zululand and Tshwane University of Technology.

In all these cases, my department has been working with the institutions to address the specific problems and challenges in these institutions and we are hopeful that sooner rather than later all these should be resolved. However most of the sector is stable and teaching and learning has begun. I thank all the stakeholders who have been working with us to ensure that all the challenges experienced are resolved

As a government, however we strongly condemn incidents of violence in some of these campuses. No matter how legitimate student grievances can be there is no justification to violence and damages to property. Violence and destruction is no longer protest but counter revolution.

On our side as government and all our institution we stand ready to engage and to deal with whatever problems we face and we urge all to seek to address problems constructively and peacefully.

I thank you