Current Impasse at Higher Education Institutions: stakeholder input; Tshwane South College Public Protector Report; with Minister

Higher Education, Science and Technology

13 February 2019
Chairperson: Ms C September (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee was briefed by stakeholders in the Higher Education sector on why there remained spradic instability at higher education institutions. The South African Union of Students (SAUS) had indicated a potential nation-wide shutdown of campuses if its demands were not met.

South African Union of Students (SAUS) stated that it was the voice of more than 1 million students in the higher education sector which was why it had agreed to come to brief the Committee as it was the official voice of student grievances. The two main causes of protests are failure to implement recommendations and poor stakeholder engagements on campuses.

On 4 December 2018 SAUS had met with university registrars and given them important recommendations but those had not been implemented in January 2019. SAUS had found that some vice-chancellors simply did not make time to meet with student leaders. There had also been an unfortunate incident were student organisation EFF Student Command (EFFSC) had come to blows with the South African Students Congress (SASCO) on campus. To date SAUS had intervened at Rhodes University and at some institutions in KwaZulu Natal with the assistance of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

SAUS  stated that one of the demands that the Student Representative Council (SRC) had submitted to Durban University of Technology (DUT) had been in-sourcing of security guards as that SRC understood the employment conditions of the security guards to be untenable. A reasonable and legitimate question then was why one of these security guards being fought for by students, would kill a student on that campus? Was it a justifiable assertion from DUT SRC president that DUT management had hired thugs to kill protesting students? SAUS felt that whatever differences arose between university management and student leaders, loss of life could never be acceptable as it was not the first time a student had died in such circumstances.

Compared to previous years, SAUS said it was commendable that NSFAS had disbursed allowances early as per demands from students; and the NSFAS plan to disburse book allowances in a much improved manner by end of February 2019 was also commendable.

SAUS said a meeting with SRCs, SAUS, the Minister, NSFAS, and USAF was convened on the 9 February 2019 in Pretoria. SAUS appreciated the prompt response from all those it had notified about its intention of a national shutdown of all varsity campuses. The Director-General had described the meeting as frank and fruitful and SAUS agreed the discussions had been frank.  To date however, SAUS noted there being no documented resolutions of that meeting which made channelling those resolutions difficult going forward. SAUS then outlined the 2019 university students demands.

Universities SA (USAf) agreed with SAUS that NSFAS had functioned better than it had in many years. USAf was clear that that the central purpose of a university was social mobility and that if a university was unaffordable that was antithetical to its role in social mobility. Although most universities were progressing well in registering first years. The main deficit at this point was returning students and that usually regularised by March. Many universities had systems in place where students were allowed to register on the basis that they signed an admission of debt (AOD).

USAf stated that all universities had mechanisms for dealing with historical student debt. No university could throw out academically talented person that could not afford university fees. More often it was repeating students who were high risk who found it difficult to motivate for support from universities. Vice-chancellors went around the world raising funds for academically talented students. It was not true that universities randomly threw out talented young people.

USAf  said it would be helpful for the students to specify which vice-chancellors were not making time for meaningful consultations with student leadership. USAf would formally engage these vice-chancellors in the interest of ensuring safe, inclusive, accessible and successful campuses.

USAf noted that some of the concerns raised by SAUS were not generic to all varsities. Some were specific and were being addressed at individual varsities. A multilayered approach was needed for accommodation challenges involving both local governments and the private sector. Quite a few institutions had already begun engaging at that level to resolve the accommodation challenge.

NSFAS said that working through student records to do the reconciliations had allowed NSFAS to see what historic debt there was, see the outstanding issues and what NSFAS could do to facilitate partially funded students or those that had not been funded so that they could access the HEI system. NSFAS had managed to clean up student records and could reconcile all the way down to student accounts. NSFAS was currently managing payment of outstanding amounts owed to universities as they were being unearthed in its system.

The ideal was for NSFAS to give to students a schedule of payments upfront so that students would know when to expect allowance payments predictably, reliably, how much and why a specific amount would be disbursed. Exchange of data with HEIs was much better than it had been previously as NSFAS now could be accessed by HEIs to see who had been approved funding, who had outstanding documentation and which students did not qualify for NSFAS so that universities could deal with those at their registration interface.

NSFAS had managed to log on and register students in real time on its system at the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) college walk-ins. those numbers to date were about 150 000 which had removed a lot of pain out of the system. NSFAS had also managed to stabilise its system with no crash incidents for the past four months whereas before it crashed every night. The 442 380 successful online applications for NSFAS in 2019 included all SASSA grant beneficiaries. Every student that had been unsuccessful in receiving funding went on a review process. The rejections which had been mostly due to outstanding documents, had been reduced to 37 000. NSFAS had asked student leadership to trace those students so that they could submit the outstanding documentation and it had also written to the HEIs providing the student names rejected due to missing documents so those students could be assisted.

NSFAS was working towards introducing NSFAS guidelines into guidance courses at high schools to enable matriculants to get familiar with the application.

NSFAS said there was R157 million on its books for unclaimed sBux allowances and NSFAS was working to find the beneficiaries of that money so the funds could exit its system.

At the close of the NSFAS applications season on 31 November 2018, NSFAS knew there would be walk-ins hence it had been unwilling to extend the application period in 2018. On that basis NSFAS had decided that if a NSFAS-qualifying student applied and was accepted to study at an HEI, NSFAS would on the basis of that acceptance process that student's recommendation, especially in the TVET environment. NSFAS had already processed more than 130 000 such students. In the varsity environment NSFAS was encouraging HEIs to follow the same process for walk-ins for courses that currently were not filled and not to turn students away on the basis of money. Where that realisation had not materialised, NSFAS had deployed its senior managers to go and assist at the registration interface, especially in the KZN region.

The debt of NSFAS qualifying students appeared to be around R1 billion. DHT expected that as it implemented the new NSFAS system, historic debt would decrease over time as government has committed to provide for NSFAS qualifying students and R5000 for subsidised learning materials for each individual.

NSFAS noted that the Department of Science and Technology (DST) was responsible for postgraduate funding through its National Research Fund (NRF) plus some HEIs provided postgraduate funding. DHET did provide for postgraduate studies through its New Generation of Academics Programme (NGAP) as well running a doctoral funding programme for staff at universities to acquire doctorates. It was not true that spaces for postgraduate students had been decreasing as enrolments had increased year-on-year.

Members asked questions and commented:
- Did USAf have a plan to accommodate students for 2019
- What the implications of signing an acknowledgement of debt (AOD) form were
- Why were students not attending university council meetings
- What was hindering the timely start of the academic calendar
- If stakeholders were satisfied with the willingness to engage by their partners
- How many postgraduates required funding
- University autonomy was entrenched in the Constitution and DHET was not able to dictate to them
- It was a major inequity that old NSFAS system students carried debt whilst new entrants were debt free.
- What had happened to the ‘missing middle' students or what was the new defintion.
- It was in no one’s interest to see video footage of vandalisation of HEI property and that would surely dissuade investment into student accommodation by the private sector.
- Policy matters had to be separated from institutional matters and challenges at specific institutions had to be corroborated with facts such as academic or financial exclusions case to case basis.

The Committee received a briefing on the Tshwane South College Public Protector Report. It agreed that due to the matter being taken on review, it would respect the right of parties to settle the matter in court. The Committee found no unwillingness on the part of DHET to cooperate with the Public Protector.

Meeting report

The Chairperson said the Committee would deal first with the referral from the Speaker of a matter referred to Parliament by the Public Protector. She asked the Minister to talk to all matters including the referral.
 

Minister’s remarks on Tshwane South College Public Protector Report
Minister of Higher Education and Training, Naledi Pandor, said she was concerned about discussing in open committee a matter that DHET was challenging in court. She had informed the Speaker of Parliament about the DHET application to have a review of the matter although DHET would certainly present to the Committee on the matter.

The Chairperson said the Committee had not been aware that DHET had written to the Speaker about deciding to take the matter on review, as normally on sub judice matters, the Committee would not force the divulging of content related to the case. DHET could simply restrict itself to the Public Protector complaint that DHET did not want to implement her remedial action and not the fine detail contained in the litigation.

Ms J Kilian (ANC) agreed with the Chairperson. The Committee could simply be furnished with timelines of when the Public Protector Report had been put to DHET and when DHET had submitted an application to review the remedial action proposed by the Public Protector.
 

DHET Implementation of Public Protector Remedial Action for Tshwane South TVET College
Adv Eben Boshoff, Chief Director: Legal Services, DHET, said that the matter had emanated in 2007 up to 2014 when the responsibility was at the college and Member of Executive Council (MEC) level in Gauteng. The Public Protector Report containing the remedial action was signed on 31 March 2017 a few years after the matter had been reported in 2014 to the Public Protector. DHET had sought senior legal advice on the authority of the Executive to deal with the responsibilities as per the Public Protector Report. At issue was that matters of review were not an inherent function of a sitting Minister, unless so legislated. Within the prescribed time DHET had lodged its review application and although the Public Protector had notified DHET that the Public Protector would oppose the review application of DHET; the Public Protector had not filed in time. The Public Protector also had not provided DHET with the relevant documentation that would allow DHET to reply. At one point the Public Protector had approached DHET notifying it of the Public Protector’s intention to withdraw from the matter but that DHET had to carry the cost of that. Since DHET had refused to pay the litigation costs, the Public Protector continued with filing court papers. DHET would be meeting on 18 February 2019 with its counsel to finalise its replying affidavit so that immediately thereafter DHET could apply for a date of set down so it could be heard in court. DHET would report back to the Committee on progress in that regard if the Committee so wished. All that information had also been supplied to the Speaker of Parliament.

The Chairperson said that the Committee would need the correspondence sent to the Speaker.

Dr B Bozzoli (DA) asked how the matter had been affecting teaching and administration at Tshwane South College (TSC). Had people been suspended or had they been suspended and then returned to work?

Adv Boshoff replied that the actions had already been taken and implemented many years ago; therefore the action of the Public Protector was reviving something already put to rest. TSC was also opposing the action of the Public Protector as far as DHET was aware and there was no negative impact on teaching and administration at the college to date. The matters addressed were simply consequences of decisions taken and not effects of decisions. Many of the affected employees resigned and others went through disciplinary processes, all before the Public Protector Report was provided.

Minister Pandor added that upon assuming office in 2018 she had received communication from the Public Protector on the matter and DHET had briefed her as well. She had replied to the Public Protector on the matter that DHET was proceeding with the review application but the Public Protector was insistent that DHET had to implement her remedial action. The Minister requested that the matter be left there as DHET would return with an update once the court had heard the matter.

The Chairperson proposed that the Committee inform the Speaker in writing that it had received a briefing by DHET and that due to the matter being taken on review, the Committee would respect the right of parties to settle the matter in the manner outlined. The Committee had found no unwillingness on the part of DHET to cooperate with the Public Protector on the matter raised.

The Committee agreed.

Current impasse at higher education institutions (HEIs)
The Chairperson noted the relevant stakeholders had been invited to brief the Committee on the issues and situation on the ground. She had visited the Durban University of Technology (DUT) and met stakeholders including the South African Police Service (SAPS) and representatives from the more than one security companys at that campus, accompanied by a member of the Portfolio Committee on Police. She would detail a report for the Committee on the matter and she had also given the Committee’s condolences to the family and school on the passing of the student due to the unrest there. There had been a second death of an individual at the same campus but relating to criminal conduct together with a reported death at the University of the Free State (UFS) also related to criminal elements.
 

South African Union of Students (SAUS) on current difficulties at universities
Mr Misheck Mugabe, SAUS President, said that SAUS was the voice of more than 1 million students in the higher education sector which was why it had agreed to brief the Committee as it was the official voice of student grievances. SAUS spoke on behalf of vulnerable and un-accommodated students at institutions of higher learning. SAUS spoke on behalf of students on the verge of committing suicide due to being denied learning in the higher education sector. SAUS was the voice of students who meritoriously qualified to study but were not funded and could not register.
 

The two main causes of protest are failure to implement recommendations and poor stakeholder engagements at campuses. On 4 December 2018 SAUS had met with all university registrars where important recommendations had been made but those had not been implemented in January 2019. SAUS had also found that some Vice-Chancellors simply did not make time to meet with student leaders. There had also been an unfortunate incident were student organisation EFF Student Command (EFFSC) had come to blows with the South African Students Congress (SASCO) on campus. To date, SAUS had intervened at Rhodes University and at some institutions in KwaZulu Natal with the assistance of NSFAS.

One of the demands that the Student Representative Council (SRC) had submitted to Durban University of Technology (DUT) had been in-sourcing of security guards as that SRC understood the employment conditions of the security guards to be untenable. A reasonable and legitimate question then was why one of these security guards being fought for by students, would kill a student on that campus? Was it a justifiable assertion from DUT SRC president that DUT management had hired thugs to kill protesting students, as it was difficult to accept that one of the people you were fighting for would decide to kill a student? SAUS felt that whatever differences arose in discussions and arguments between university management and student leaders; that loss of life could never be acceptable as it was not the first time students had lost their life in such circumstances. At the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) a student had been shot dead on campus in 2018. Violence was not the only issue SAUS was raising but general safety of students on campuses had emerged as quite a consistent challenge. Two days before a UFS student had been found dead close to campus.

Compared to previous years, Mr Mugabe said it was commendable that NSFAS had disbursed allowances as per the demand from students; and the plan from NSFAS to disburse book allowances in a much improved manner by end of February 2019 was also commendable. He applauded the response of NSFAS when SAUS had highlighted challenges at KZN institutions as NSFAS had gone with SAUS under difficult circumstances, to the KZN campus to hear directly from students and the vice chancellor.

A meeting between SRCs, SAUS, DHET Minister, NSFAS, and USAF was convened on 9 February 2019 in Pretoria. SAUS appreciated the prompt response from all those it had notified about its intention of a national shutdown of all varsity campuses. The Director-General had described the meeting as frank and fruitful. SAUS agreed the discussions had been frank as everyone had been allowed to ventilate their concerns and Minister Pandor had been made aware what these were. SAUS hoped that meeting would inform her budget speech for 2019. To date, however, SAUS had noted that there had been no documented resolutions of that meeting — that made channelling the resolutions difficult going forward.


Mr Mugabe outlined the Higher education challenges and the 2019 university students demands:
▪ There was a crisis due to the shortage of student accommodation, student transport services and collapsed campus health services. The condition of the residences for students that had managed to find accommodation was horrible as no maintenance and refurbishments were done to those premises.
▪ Lack of post graduate funding and shrinking enrolment quotas for post-graduate studies. If a student had been carried for four years by NSFAS, why would they not be funded for postgraduate studies?
▪ The problem of NSFAS appeals and confusion about allowances.
▪ South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) beneficiaries had to automatically included in NSFAS processes as they moved into higher education institutions (HEIs).
▪ Increase in higher education costs due to subsequent fee increments and denial of universities to issue academic records and certificates to those in arrears. Although Minister Pandor’s guidance had been that increases had to stop at 5.3%, Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT) had increased fees far above that directive. SAUS believed that the matter of institutional autonomy needed serious review by the Committee, as one of the reasons posited by universities was that university councils had the prerogative to decide on fee increases, beyond what DHET had recommended.
▪ The plight of students with a disability and international students. There were disparities in treatment of international students in that students that came from overseas were even fetched from the airport; whereas the treatment was different for students from the diaspora. Universities were stringent with first generation first years from the diaspora in that they gave away spots of those awaiting visas without granting a grace period.

Universities SA (USAf) briefing on Start of the 2019 Academic Year
Prof Ahmed Bawa, USAf CEO, agreed with SAUS about the unprecendented better functioning of NSFAS than it had in many years. USAf was clear that that the central purpose of a university was social mobility and that if a university was unaffordable that was antithetical to their role in social mobility.
 

On registration, although most universities were progressing well in registering first years it had to be borne in mind that post graduate registration occurred throughout the year. The main deficit at this point was returning students and that usually regularised by March. Many universities had systems in place where students were allowed to register on the basis they signed up for a repayment plan.
 

On accommodation, USAf wanted to get DHET and the sector thinking about rural universities and TVET being prioritised for 100% coverage in infrastructure funding, especially where it was already known that accommodation was a challenge.

Dr Sizwe Mabizela, Rhodes University Vice-Chancellor, reiterated that all universities had mechanisms for dealing with historical student debt. No university could possibly throw out academically talented persons that could not afford university fees. More often it was repeating students who were high risk who found it difficult to motivate for support from universities. Vice-chancellors went around the world raising funds for academically talented students. It was not true that universities randomly threw out talented young people.

It was also government policy that a poor young person with a family that had a combined income below R350 000; such person was covered by state funding. Vice-chancellors had been engaging on student visas especially for students from Zimbabwe as they were not immediately able to pay registration fees and visas were outstanding. Vice-chancellors had developed mechanism to manage that situation.

Prof Sibongile Muthwa, Nelson Mandela University Vice-Chancellor, said it would be helpful for the students to specify which vice-chancellors were not making time for meaningful consultations with student leadership as meaningful engagement was the only way that peaceful academic environments would prevail at institutions of higher learning in the country. It would assist USAf as it would formally engage these vice-chancellors in the interest of ensuring a safe, inclusive, accessible and successful campus. Moreover, systems of institutional readiness for first year students were already in place in many institutions.

Some of the concerns raised by SAUS were not generic to all varsities and some were being addressed at individual varsities. Prof Muthwa said there were domestic and local issues that individual universities could to find solutions to with students; and then there were bigger matters than needed a compact between the student sector through their leadership, government, and between universities. Since universities were a microcosm of communities, it had to be understood that not all student protests were due to poor responses by universities but the university space being used as part of greater social challenges. In that regard, she felt universities had demonstrated commitment to being part of the solutions needed.

On accommodation challenges, a multilayered approach involving both local governments and the private sector had to be sought and quite a few schools had already begun engaging at that level to resolve accommodation challenges.
 

NSFAS briefing
Dr Randall Carolissen, NSFAS Administrator, noted that the Minister had placed NSFAS under administration. NSFAS was approaching six months of administration. The modest gains NSFAS had achieved to date would not have been possible without the tremendous and unwavering support of DHET and the executive authority, the Committee, varsity and student leadership.
 

Dr Carolissen said every time when he thought they were about to effectively close out the 2017 and 2018 student funding cycles, new surprises arose, and as such that term of reference was a moving target. NSFAS had discovered 150 000 additional students with outstanding disbursements for those two cycles. Working through student’s records to do the reconciliations, allowed NSFAS to see what historic debt there was, what NSFAS could do to facilitate partially funded students or those that had not been funded so that they could access the HEI system.
 

Progress Overview
NSFAS had managed to clean up student records and could reconcile all the way down to student accounts. NSFAS was also currently managing payment of outstanding amounts owed to universities as they were being unearthed in its system. The ideal was for NSFAS to give to students a schedule of payments upfront so that students would know when to expect allowance payments predictably, reliably, how much and why a specific amount would be disbursed. Exchange of date with HEIs was much better than it had been previously as NSFAS could now be accessed by HEIs to see who had been approved funding, who had outstanding documentation and which students did not qualify for NSFAS so that universities could deal with those issues at the registration interface.
 

NSFAS had managed to log-on and register students in real time on its system at the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) college walk-ins. Those numbers to date were about 150 000 which had removed a lot of pain out of the system. NSFAS had managed to stabilise its system with no crash incidents for the past four months. At the beginning of the administration, it crashed every night.

NSFAS had established a research unit to begin interrogating some of the data and trends right down to school level, looking at pull through and throughput success rate of NSFAS students and that had begun to inform policy debates and NSFAS would strengthen that facility as it assisted in fact-based decision making.

Dr Carolissen said when the administration had started there had been over 200 000 records that were unreconciled at NSFAS. The administration had worked the number down to about 60 000 to date. The administrator had since asked HEIs to register the outstanding 60 000 students formally so that students were not locked out because of that and work to reconcile those records was under way.
 

Update on 2019 Online Applications Process
He said of the 442 380 successful online applications for NSFAS, there was not supposed to be SASSA grant beneficiaries which were not approved as the number included SASSA beneficiaries. Every student that had been unsuccessful in receiving funding went on a review process so that the rejections which had been mostly due to outstanding documents, had been reduced to 37 000. NSFAS had asked student leadership to trace those students so that they could submit the outstanding documentation and had also written to the HEIs providing the names of the students which had been rejected on the basis of documents so that the students could be assisted.
 

Reasons for Appeals
Dr Carolissen said that many times when individuals declared household incomes they would submit numbers but when NSFAS checked the numbers against the credit bureau, NSFAS found a higher income. Accepting that bureau data could be outdated, NSFAS invited people who had had changes in their family circumstances to provide an affidavit pending approval. NSFAS also accepted affidavits where a parent’s identity document (ID) had gone missing or there was a Home Affairs delay in issuing a replacement ID.

NSFAS was working towards introducing NSFAS guidelines into guidance courses at high schools to enable matriculants to get familiar with the application.

NSFAS knew that there was R157 million on its books of unclaimed sBUX allowances and NSFAS was working to find the beneficiaries of that money so it could exit its system.

At the close of the NSFAS applications season on 30 November 2018 NSFAS had been aware that there would be walk-ins hence it had been unwilling to extend the 2018 application period. NSFAS had decided that if a NSFAS qualifying student applied and was accepted to study at an HEI, NSFAS would on the basis of that acceptance, process that student’s recommendation, especially in the TVET environment. NSFAS had already processed more than 130 000 such students. In the varsity environment NSFAS was encouraging HEIs to follow the same process for walk-ins for courses that currently were not filled so as not to turn students away on the basis of money. Where that realisation had not materialised, NSFAS had deployed its senior managers to go and assist at registration interface, especially in the KZN region.

DHET was talking to historic debt. As NSFAS was working through its system clearing out, it would be able to give a better indication of the size of the problem. NSFAS consistently was faced with discrepancies on differences in allowance between pre-2018 and post-2018. However; NSFAS only executed the rules and bursary guidelines of DHET. Of course NSFAS was allowed to raise policy issues with DHET but NSFAS could not be expected to change policy as it evolved.

There was a policy for assisting disabled students where the threshold was R600 000 for those families and NSFAS also provided for assistive devices. However the uptake of that benefit had not been great and certainly could be improved.
 

Department of Higher Education and Training on strategies to resolve current difficulties
Dr Diane Parker, DDG: Higher Education: DHET, noted that certain matters were only relevant to a specific institutional amongst the 12 demands for which SAUS had called a national shutdown.
 

Historic Debt
The debt of NSFAS qualifying students appeared to be around R1 billion. DHT expected that as it implemented the new NSFAS system, historic debt would decrease over time so that no new NSFAS qualifying students would accumulate debt as they entered HEIs
Government has committed to provide for NSFAS qualifying students in the new scheme – First Time Entering Students (FTENS) 2018 and 2019. Subsidised learning materials had been costed for each individual to the value of R5000.
 

Urgent Matters for Resolution
On the differences between allocation to returning students and first time NSFAS beneficiaries, although DHET was cognisant of the matters SAUS had raised, because the matters involved finances, some would take longer to resolve.
 

Postgraduate students
The Department of Science and Technology (DST) was responsible for postgraduate funding through its National Research Fund (NRF), moreover HEIs also provided for postgraduate. DHET did however provide for postgraduate studies through the New Generation of Academics Programme (NGAP) as well running a doctoral funding programme for staff at universities to acquire doctorates. It was not true that spaces for postgraduate students had been decreasing as enrolments had increased year-on-year and the numbers had in fact increased by 2% overall.
 

Discussion
Dr Bozzoli said she believed it was not the Committee’s concern whether students received their sBUX allocation on a particular day or not but it was concerned more with national issues such as the previous dysfunctionality of NSFAS. The Committee did not have to discuss issues that individual universities or NSFAS and DHET could thrash out directly with the students. A matter of national importance though was the death of a student during a student protest and it would certainly warrant a DHET investigation apart from the ongoing litigation on the matter. DHET was obligated to intervene in the matter of historical debt because it was a major inequity that students from the old NSFAS system still carried debt whilst new entrants were progressing in the system debt free.

It was interesting that ‘missing middle' students remained a designation because in the older NSFAS system that meant students between the then R120 000 and R350 000; why had that missing middle gone to beyond R350 000 to date? Was the R350 000 amount still too little for a student to get a bank loan as that was what had defined the 'missing middle' before?

University autonomy was entrenched in the SA Constitution and was not something the Committee could simply decide to abolish nor was that desirable to the Committee.

Ms H Bucwa (DA) noted that there had been discussions with SAUS by HEIs leadership and government and she needed to understand where there had been a breach of agreements between the discussants that caused SAUS to resolve  to shutdown campuses nationally. Taking into account that international student visa had expiration dates, SAUS surely would have been cognisant about extending the academic calendar and the impact that would have on those students. Certainly a shutdown had to be reviewed and set aside in that more discussions could be had between all relevant stakeholders especially if SAUS had noted the progress made by NSFAS in administering benefits to students. Certainly then the only legitimate issue remaining was historical debt which seemed to be barring returning students from registration and that definitely needed government, SAUS and Parliament intervention. For example, SRCs had budgets such that Walter Sisulu University (WSU) had had R14 million at one point. Surely SRCs could innovate on how to support the students who were being left behind because of that historical debt. The SRC she had been part of had with Prof Muthwa’s assistance raised R400 000 and gone around sectors to raise a further R4.8 million in one month to assist with historical debt.

Ms Bucwa accepted the legitimacy of the concerns but cautioned that whatever solutions SAUS proffered could not be to the detriment of the same students they claimed to be serving.

Certainly the higher education institutions councils and student representation on them could and were supposed to be able to vocalise student concerns at that level including vice-chancellors being able to articulate the positions of the student populace and communicate that with councils.

Did USAf have a plan in place to accommodate students that could be funded end of March for the whole of 2019 by NSFAS as it had articulated so in its presentation? She was not reading a more committed response from USAf on how it planned to respond to the accommodation crisis in the short-term. She wanted to know what the implications of signing that acknowledgement of debt (AOD) form; what did that indicate to the student?

Ms Kilian said that it was in no one’s interest to see video footage of vandalisation of HEI property and that would surely dissuade investment into student accommodation by the private sector. She suggested that when discussing issues, policy matters had to be separated from institutional matters. Moreover challenges at specific institutions had to be corroborated with facts, that is, if an individual's NSFAS appeal had failed it could not be construed as "financial exclusion" as the appeal had individual merits from case-to-case. Would DHET and USAf assist SAUS if it presented evidence of deserving students and would SAUS be willing to accept the outcomes of that process?

It seemed that SRCs did not operate as they were supposed to in the different HEIs as they seemed to not be fully participating in their respective institutional forums such as Council. Quite often they seemed to be operating from a position of inadequate and incorrect information as a result. Perhaps it was also time for HEIs to restructure the election and terms of SRCs because it felt like one year was not enough for student leaders to gain enough traction and deal with all the challenges of students year-on-year as the challenges also evolved from cohort to cohort.

Ms S Mchunu (ANC) emphasised that registration was urgent and needed serious attention especially NSFAS beneficiaries. One had to communicate better with HEIs on who had been awarded funding on time.

The Chairperson cautioned the students on the matter of in-sourcing of security guards at HEIs; the conversation the Committee had been having with the Police Committee suggested a different scenario. The longer conversation was that there were laws regulating the security industry and part of the challenges at DUT had to do with the regime of security companies deployed there.

The UNISA issue required a different discussion as distance education was different especially since DHET consistently historically had challenges meeting targets because of the performance of UNISA. The Committee believed DHET allowed UNISA too much leeway to self-improve and DHET would continue with the same challenges if the approach to funding and dealing with UNISA was not changed from the status quo.

Why were students not meeting the councils and why were councils not meeting? The Committee had during oversight seen VCs that were not assisting the current chaotic situations in some HEIs. Why was it that yearly the HEIs started fully on the academic calendar only after the Easter vacation?

The Chairperson re-emphasised the matter of the elections and term of SRCs and asked if there was a law or policy stipulating annual SRC elections because it was quite disruptive to have elections and changes in SRC leadership.

She asked if stakeholders were satisfied with the willingness to engage by their partners that were in attendance, in dealing with all the matters raised in the meeting? The Committee was not satisfied about the strategic impact the Sector Education Training Authorities (SETAs) were having and how they identified and disbursed bursaries and enrolment into trades training.

She wanted clarity from USAf about undergraduate registrations being close to being completed. If USAf were saying postgraduates had to be funded, how many people did that speak to?

Two years ago after the #feesmustfall protests had been quelled, government had committed that no deserving students would be kept out of tuition and enrolment but the Committee had discovered students locked out of the HEI system at DUT when they were deserving; how was that possible and why was that happening despite government's commitment?

The Chairperson had asked DUT to update the Committee together with the Police Committee on the investigation involving the death of Mr Mlungisi Madonsela by security guards and what had happened there. The Committee had wanted to know why the security personnel involved in the death of Mr Madonsela were still on the DUT campus as if nothing had occurred. That had potential for student unrest going forward.

Minister Pandor replied that she stood by the fact that she would still be making a statement by 15 February 2019 on discussions DHET had had with SAUS and the other stakeholders as saying that did not mean that DHET would be agreeing to all the demands and requests by the students.

She agreed with the Chairperson that it was difficult to deal with generalisations as sometimes an HEI would have only eight exclusions, or over 30, but without the student numbers she could not engage a particular HEI. DHET needed detail to intervene and establish whether there had been breach of policy. However, it also had to be recognised that HEIs determined rules for their academic requirements and not DHET.

Minister Pandor replied that because the resources of the country were finite, government had try to address the plight of the most vulnerable but deserving student populace. Unfortunately it had not been able to deal with the ‘missing middle’ as Dr Bozzoli had asked about. DHET was looking at whether some of the Heher Commission recommendations could be implemented. But certainly DHT could better manage communicating with SA what it had done and would continue to do, that is, the high levels of support government continued to provide to the least advantaged to gain access to HEIs — which many countries in Africa could not do. The numbers of postgraduates funded by government had increased through university and NRF funding but probably there was a challenge at entry level for Honours qualification but Masters and Doctoral students were quite sufficiently funded. An unfortunate milieu and atmosphere had been created about an unresponsive, uncaring government.

Possibly the HEIs had been lying to the Minister about their support programmes for visas and registration of international students — judging from the gestures of the students when the matter had been raised by USAf and DHET in the meeting. The policy was that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) students were treated as local except that that they had to pay some fee towards registration and administration. The amount for registration was R6 950 as per USAf but beyond the 14 members of SADC there was no such policy.

Historical debt was challenging but DHET had indicated that it possibly had found some way to deal with the problem. It would indicate by end of March 2019 how it would address the matter. Students with historical debt though who had signed the AOD had to be allowed to register, that was the agreement with HEIs and DHET.

Minister Pandor said she welcomed USAf’s commitment to having the infrastructure grant prioritising rural HEIs and if the HEI sector agreed to that she would be happy because currently the system was such that the most privileged HEIs still got the lion’s share of public funding, which was not correct.

Mr Mugabe replied that probably HEI autonomy had to be further discussed as students maintained that there were matters where DHET had to intervene because, barring that, the vulnerable would be locked out of the HEI system. The recurring problem was that at national level the stakeholders in the room would agree on an issue but when students arrived at their respective campus, they would then find resistance from the same registrars they had engaged at national level on the prescript of institutional autonomy.   

Mr Mugabe stated that if the agenda of government was to increase or create new academics, he had been told by his constituency to emphasise the issue of B Tech entrants that had no funding because NSFAS did not fund postgraduates. Wits SRC had indeed through its humanitarian funding initiative managed to raise funds for the stranded students. Mr Mugabe requested that perhaps the committee could commend that work as SAUS had; as an encouragement for other SRCs to do likewise.

Mr Mugabe replied that participation in university councils had been raised with the Minister as on average only two student representatives participated in a council of 25 members. Almost always when discussions got heated and matters were put to a vote, the students were voted down. Probably what needed more oversight were Ministerial appointees to councils because some of them did not even attend council meetings according to SAUS experience. There were former student activists who could contribute as Ministerial appointees that could be sent to councils.

Mr Mugabe said the way forward was that after the meeting with the Minister the previous weekend some HEIs had called off protests. SAUS was willing to call off the national shutdown after this meeting today. Additionally, if the commitments made at that meeting with the Minister including those from the meeting today could be documented, SAUS would be able to send those to the SRCs which would make calling off the shutdown that much easier.

Ms Asanda Lobelo, UCT SRC President, said that she had a fees handbook which had contradictory information to what the Committee had been given about how and what amounts international students were required to pay upfront. Moreover there were directives given to VCs that students never saw and students were unable to hold VCs accountable on that and the commitments being made at the meeting today.

Prof Bawa replied that currently HEIs simply did not have the resources to meet the needs of all the students except to focus on the needs of the most vulnerable. Indeed most HEIs had nearly completed their registration targets for first years, where there were gaps it was for returning students due to historical debt and other issues.

Prof Bawa replied that USAf would require more detail about the NSFAS qualifying students who were not being registered as that was a clear violation of national policy. Therefore if SAUS had the records and HEIs denying enrolment to deserving students, this needed to be provided..

The Chairperson thanked all stakeholders that had heeded the Committee invitation noting that more detailed replies in writing would be awaited by the Committee from the presenters.

Dr Carolissen noted that the appeals process for returning students was not an NSFAS function but was done at institutional level with NSFAS simply funding progression. NSFAS had provided the HEI sector with R5 billion for upfront and initial payments and around 240 000 students had received payment. Where payments had not gone through, varsities had agreements with SRCs on a date of disbursement. However NSFAS had found in some instances a communication breakdown which resulted in student protesting around their upfront payments. NSFAS was urging student leadership to engage university leadership around those agreements because the money was there but to check the date of disbursement. In situations where there were institutions with problems, there was the NSFAS Wallet, where NSFAS directly paid into a student account.

Dr Parker replied that the current descriptive definition of ‘the missing middle’ had been decided to be somewhere up to R600 000. DHET was looking at creating a model where any student that required support could receive it in the long term.

The implications of the AOD form was that as it talked to the amount of funds owed to an HEI by a specific student and it also had a clause that if a student was not a NSFAS qualifying student after evaluation then the student will be liable for those funds; if a student qualified for NSFAS funding then DHET was working out how to deal with that debt through an agreement with NSFAS.

In terms of funding for infrastructure development DHET had provided substantial additional funding to Fort Hare University (FHU) specifically for a 2000 bed housing project currently underway in Alice. Moreover DHET had deployed an infrastructure development support team which was assisting FHU. The infrastructure programme for HEIs had identified historically black and rural campuses as a priority for infrastructure development.

DHET accepted that it had to develop a separate approach for UNISA as it was not a traditional class university.

The Chairperson reiterated that all the presenters would have to submit written responses. She had seen beautiful infrastructure projects being rolled out at UFS and the Northern Cape. The innovation of the VCs of the two institutions was commendable in getting assistance from their local municipalities for the state of the art residences.

The Committee was somewhat confused though about hwy there remained issues at DUT when the SRC had to date raised R300 000 on their own for students in need.

The Chairperson thanked everyone for attending and the meeting was then adjourned.
 

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