Minister Blade on South African Union of Students and the beginning of the academic year 2022

Minister Blade on South African Union of Students and the beginning of the academic year 2022

The Minister Of Higher Education, Science And Innovation statement on SAUS media statement titled “South African union of students statement on challenges facing DHET” and the beginning of the academic year 2022
I wish to strongly disagree and dismiss the statement by the South African Union of Students that insinuates that there is a perpetual paralysis in the Department of Higher Education and Training.
Were it not for active engagement with all the stakeholders in the sector (workers, staff, management and student representative structures) on the part of our department, we would not have managed to complete the past two academic years working under very difficult conditions.
The department, at the height of the lockdown in 2020, continued to ensure that NSFAS pays stipends to its recipients, set up the Covid Grant to manage learning and teaching under difficult circumstances, engaged mobile operators to provide data and Wi-Fi services, as well as working with our universities and colleges to provide laptops to more than 80 % of our university and college students.
In fact, we are proud as a department that through this activism and dynamic interaction with stakeholders we have kept our post school education and training system going. We would like to thank all our stakeholders and their representative organisations for this co-operation and working together.
I would like to reassure all the students in our sector that we place their interest firsts, and that is why we are constantly engaging and having consultation with SAUS and SAVETSA on the state of readiness for the beginning of the 2022 academic year.
If there are issues of concern that the SAUS has on any matter affecting students within universities, there are both institutional and Ministerial and Department led forums to discuss all issues of concern, as indeed has been the case since the beginning of the year.
To be specific there has already, and in addition to the meetings between SAUS and the Ministry, there has been some engagement between SAUS and the Director General, between SAUS and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme and between SAUS and Higher Health on various issues affecting students.
We have made a commitment to SAUS that we will always be available to engage with them on any matters that affect the sector. This is a commitment we made, and a commitment that we will always keep, and there is therefore absolutely no need act as if SAUS is not aware of the state of readiness and challenges in the sector.
On appeal for calm at institution
I appeal for calm in all our institutions of higher learning, and for all stakeholders to work together to ensure a smooth start of the academic year. Where there are matters of dispute and grievance, structures are in place for SRCs and institutional management to engage.
I urge that student leaders and institutional management make use of these mechanisms to resolve problems amicably.
In instances where students decide to protest, I urge all students to ensure that there is no destruction of property. I have also urged all of management in our institutions to engage with student leaders to address whatever problems may be there. It is important that students must always act within the confines of the law.
On NSFAS funding eligibility and Terms of Conditions for 2022
We have finalised the NSFAS Funding Eligibility and Terms and Conditions for 2022. It should be noted that the changes were kept to a minimum in order not to affect the administration of the DHET Bursary Scheme in public institutions.
These guidelines have been communicated to institutions to enable allowances to be paid.
To further mitigate any further delays, NSFAS issued a communique to all our institutions to register both new NSFAS approved students and returning students.
This will ensure that there are no further delays to the start of the academic year.
Through USAf, we have also communicated to institutions to do their institutional analysis on their registration processes to determine the need for the possible extension of their registration period, where necessary.
I must indicate that some universities have already extended their registration periods.
On missing middle students’ funding
What should be clear is that Government is firmly committed to implement the policy of providing fully subsidised financial support to students from working class and poor backgrounds, whilst also putting a sustainable mechanism in place to support students from the so-called ‘missing middle’ and postgraduate students.
In 2021, I appointed a Ministerial Task Team – led by Prof Mtose, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Zululand – to investigate and make recommendations on a comprehensive student funding model as required by Cabinet. I am looking forward to receiving their report by no later than the end of the first half of the year.
The Ministerial Task Team, with the support and involvement of the National Treasury, has already started engaging the public and private financial institutions, including the banking sector to explore the feasibility of an afford loan scheme for students who fall outside the net of NSFAS.
I also wish to dismiss claims that NSFAS will now be run by the banks. NSFAS remains a public bursary scheme of the DHET that will be run by NSFAS itself on behalf of government and the department.
The discussion with the public and private financial institutions, including the banks, is not a replacement for NSFAS funding but it is meant to find alternative funding models for the missing middle.
Further support has been identified with the SETAs to fund the missing middle. And we urge students who are not NSFAS beneficiaries to apply for the many bursary opportunities offered by a number of government departments, the provinces, the municipalities, as well as the private sector.
Another source of funding for the missing middle is that offered by many of our institutions, through various bursaries and loan schemes.
On academic records and certificates
All institutions have confirmed to the Department that they have mechanisms in place to ensure that students with debt are able to receive academic records and certificates of completion for the purposes of further study and accessing employment opportunities.
As a Department, we have always supported this, because it is our long-held view that no student should be prevented from accessing employment or other opportunities because they have outstanding fees.
On student debt
Government is very concerned about the issue of growing student debt in the system, as are the universities.
What should be clear from the above is that Government is firmly committed to implement the policy of providing fully subsidised financial aid to students from working class and poor backgrounds, whilst also putting a sustainable mechanism in place to support students from the so-called ‘missing middle’ income bracket.
Most of the demands that are being received by government and universities relate to the debt of students who may not be funded by NSFAS but who are struggling to register because they have not been able to pay debts, but are doing well academically.
In some instances, universities make arrangements with such students to sign acknowledgement of debt agreements. In this regard, I urge university leadership to explore ways to ensure that final year students who are on track to graduate and are performing well, are able to register for their final year through such acknowledgment of debt arrangements.
On the defunding of PGCE
As of the 2021 academic year, NSFAS no longer provides funding for second qualifications, including the PGCE.
This includes postgraduate certificates, postgraduate diplomas, honours degrees, masters and PhD degrees.
Students who were funded in 2020 for any of the 2020 NSFAS funded postgraduate qualifications were granted continued funding in 2021 for the completion of the course.  However, the funding will not proceed in the 2022 academic year. Government policy prioritises funding of poor students to at least acquire a first qualification.
On enrolment plans
I must also urge that all our universities stick to the agreed enrolment plans in line with the Ministerial Statement on Enrolment Planning (2020-2025).
On the vaccination guidelines
The Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs have now gazetted the amended COVID-19 Alert Level 1 Regulations.
Provided that these guidelines remain the same, 2022 promises to be an academic year that will not be badly disrupted by lockdown periods and restricted access to classes.
Again, to the extent that COVID-19 restrictions remain the same, more and more contact learning and teaching is possible.
This will further be enabled by the increased levels of vaccination of our students and all employees.
We call upon staff and students to vaccinate as this will be an important means to fight and defeat the scourge of Covid 19.
Currently, HIGHER HEALTH, our implementing agency, that is guiding institutions on the management of the pandemic, has finalised the guidelines that institutions will follow in determining various matters around vaccination.
As the Minister and the Department, we are currently studying the guidelines before we can release them for implementation by all our institutions.
In the process of the finalisation of these guidelines, in relation to vaccine mandates and the management of the academic year, through Higher Health, we urge all our institutions to ensure that the policies and procedures they put in place have been widely consulted on campus.
On the COVID 19 issue, in line with the approach of the NCCC and Cabinet, I would like to encourage everyone in our higher education and training community to get vaccinated.
My department, through Higher Health, will work very closely with management and SRCs to ensure that we encourage staff and students to get vaccinated because Vaccination is safe and saves lives.
On student accommodation
As a department, we remain committed to strengthening and developing the PSET sector by investing in infrastructure to provide quality teaching, learning and research and innovation spaces.
The total amount currently available for investment in infrastructure projects across the 26 universities during the 2021/22 to 2023/25 MTEF period. R11.519billion. Much as this amount is not insignificant, but it is far from enough in addressing student accommodation needs. The DHET is actively seeking ways to engage the private sector, so that more resources are mobilised to provide more student beds in the system.
My Department will use the resources available to invest in infrastructure projects that seeks to achieve the following priorities:

  • Facilities for strategic study fields required to be responsive to the strategic priorities of South Africa;
  • Digital transformation of universities;
  • Effective and efficient use of existing university buildings and facilities as well as the refurbishment and renewal of dilapidated university buildings and facilities;
  • Student housing;
  • Regulatory compliance of aging buildings and facilities; and
  • Projects that enable a holistic teaching and learning environment.

We will continue to prioritise infrastructure development at Historically Disadvantaged universities to ensure that maintenance backlogs are addressed and the quality of infrastructure delivery management is improved at these institutions.
My Department is currently in the process of reviewing the 2015 student housing minimum norms and standards to incorporate student housing at TVET colleges.
We will also use the Capital Infrastructure Expansion Grant to address the serious backlogs in infrastructure maintenance in TVET colleges, with particular focus on improving the teaching and learning environment.
Through Phase 1 of the Student Housing Infrastructure Programme (SHIP), we have completed 3437 beds (VUT = 1836, UFH = 1437, and NMU = 200); 8248 beds are currently at construction stage (NWU = 1728, SMU = 2000, UWC = 2720, and NMU = 1800); and 3500 (UL) beds are currently at planning stage; 3500 beds (UNIZULU) are current at feasibility study; and 840 beds (King Hintsa TVET College) are currently waiting for the completion of the bulk services required before construction can commence. The bulk services project is at procurement stage.
Phase 1 SHIP developments enabled an investment of about R3.5 billion, including the DBSA commitment R1.6 billion debt funding for 12 000 student beds.
Phase 2 SHIP developments comprise of about 24 000 student beds that is made up of 12 Institutions (6 Universities and 6 TVET Colleges) in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, Western Cape, Gauteng, Eastern Cape and Free State provinces.
Feasibility studies for cluster 2 (TUT, UKZN, Gert Sibande and Majuba were completed in July 2021.  Cluster 1studies (University of Johannesburg, Lephalale, Vhembe and Sekhukhune) were completed. Cluster 3 studies (CPUT, WSU and Northlink are currently being finalised.