2022 Academic Year: DHET & stakeholder preparations

Higher Education, Science and Innovation

01 December 2021
Chairperson: Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


The Committee met with the Post-School Education and Training (PSET) sector to receive briefings on preparations for Academic Year 2022 covering enrolments; student funding and accommodation; safety and security and NSFAS funding decisions as well as its projected R10.1 billion shortfall.

The Minister gave an overview noting the sector was managing Covid-19 with assistance from Higher Health; engaging with the Council of Higher Education on monitoring and guidelines for the 2022 academic year; and monitoring developments in each institution.

The Minister lamented the complexity and difficulty in resolving student funding given the fiscal constraints and budget cuts. The Department had to reprioritise its budget to meet the R6.4 billion shortfall that NSFAS had in 2021. This was unsustainable but the Department was in ongoing engagements with National Treasury to find solutions to address the shortfall. In 2022, NSFAS would be subjected to yet another shortfall; however, all stakeholders have been putting measures in place to avoid another protest situation.

Members were generally pleased with the presentations and commended the DHET for its efforts to avoid student protests at the start of the 2022 academic year. They asked about measures to handle Covid-19; vaccination in higher education institutions (HEIs); consultations with HEI senior management; if consultations were done about the 75% pass rate for NSFAS beneficiaries; mandatory vaccinations that some institutions had adopted and if consultations were held about implementing that decision; if fee-free higher education is sustainable; load shedding effects on teaching and learning; status of UNISA over-enrolment; student debt; plans to address the NSFAS funding shortfall; and 'missing middle' students.

Meeting report

Minister’s opening remarks
Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education and Training, apologised in advance that he would not be able to be present to the end of the meeting. He the congratulated the new Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee and assured her of his cooperation with the Committee. It is also the first meeting he was attending with the new Director-General of the Department, Dr Nkosinathi Sishi who has a PhD from the University of Johannesburg. He was so pleased that the DG had hit the ground running.

The Covid-19 pandemic is still with us and continues to be a major disruption for our economy and poses as a challenge to our operations in the Department and in our institutions. The work of our scientists seems to be abused by some developed countries who want to isolate our country for the good work of our scientists. That in fact adds additional strain to our economy and has huge implications for absorption of interns and trainees with the tourism industry being hugely negatively affected. In the Higher Education portfolio, we have been developing comprehensive programmes, systems and controls through the establishment of guidelines, protocols and capacity building at all levels to deal with Covid-19. At all times we ensure that our collective response to Covid-19 is always inclusive. This is why we have a Task Team, chaired by the Deputy Minister, inclusive of all stakeholders in the sector. This facilitated the taking of collective decisions and it was through this platform we managed to ensure the successful completion of the 2021 academic year and commencement of the 2022 academic year. We have tried our best to ensure that no one is left behind and save lives. Much as our Covid-19 response is focusing on current challenges, it is also futuristic.

He expressed his gratitude to all stakeholders the Department and Ministry have worked with. The plan for 2022 takes its cue from the President and the National Coronavirus Command Council as well as advice from medical experts. We are preparing our sector for 2022 based on the holistic South African response to the pandemic but taking into account the unique and distinct features of our institutions. We do not have a homogenous post school education system in South Africa and therefore for us to succeed we must continue to pay attention to the dynamics of each institution.

We will continue to implement the Covid-19 risk adjusted strategy and protocols as guided by government. We will also direct and manage the way institutions carry out their academic mandate in line with the policy framework. As we continue to steer and transform the system, our interventions are consistently informed by the policy directives of the White Paper for PSET and our resolve is to ensure that the country has a skilled and capable workforce that supports inclusive growth in a fair, equitable, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic manner. It is important to remind ourselves that as the PSET sector, we cannot focus on only one branch such as universities.

The key areas for the 2022 academic year are:
- Managing Covid-19;
- Providing backup as required;
- We are in discussion with the sector including Higher Health, which is doing fantastic work in the sector in managing Covid-19;
- We are engaging with the Council on Higher Education on the monitoring and guidelines for the 2022 academic year;
- We continue to monitor developments in each institution.

On funding of the PSET system, this is a very difficult issue especially given the very tight fiscal constraints and budget cuts – this continues to pose a serious threat to what we want to do. He is grateful for the support of the Committee in being steadfast in ensuring that the PSET is adequately funded. The current situation has forced us to redirect funds – at the beginning of the year we had to reprioritise the budget and revise and defer some of the targets contained in the MTEF. With the NSFAS shortfall at the beginning of 2021, we had to redirect R6.4 billion from the Department to student funding. This is unsustainable. We have engaged with National Treasury and it is like robbing Peter to pay Paul. It is no use to allow increased student funding when we are continually under-funding the system.

The growth and demand for the NSFAS bursary has resulted in a shortfall in the cost of the current scheme. We are engaged with the Minister of Finance to deal with this matter so as to start the next academic year with ease.

The current financial aid model cannot continue without a substantial increase in the budget or changing certain policies. It is unfortunate that some of these issues are sensationalised without familiarising themselves with the facts. The media reported that NSFAS was saying students must now get 75% pass to continue to be funded. The proposal that is being consulted upon states you must pass 60 to 75% of your modules if you are to continue with the funding. It makes sense to engage on that because we cannot be funding students and expecting them to pass only half their programme. What it means is that we are institutionalising doing a three year degree over six years, which is not the aim of government or of most students who want to finish in record time. Some media outlets reported that this was already been agreed to – it is unproductive and dangerous sensationalism. We hope that media come to us and get the facts straight.

Department of Higher Education and Training
Dr Nkosinathi Sishi, DHET Director-General, presented the Department’s plan on saving the 2022 academic year which covered preparations for universities, TVET colleges and Community Education and Training (CET) colleges (see document).

For student funding, the Ministerial Task Team continues to model the costs of different policy options. Phase 1 considered the historical overview of work done in the student financing area and explored the high-level policy options for the future. It proposed that a new policy cannot be introduced for 2022 and it would be necessary to address the shortfall for 2022 through the medium term budget process. Submissions were made to Treasury through the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) process outlining the funding requirements over the 2022 MTEF – a R10.1 billion projected shortfall. Further details can be provided only following the conclusion of these engagements within government.

On compliance with Covid-19 regulations, National Treasury approved R45,7 million to be transferred to CET colleges during 2021/22 as an earmarked allocation for procurement of cleaning services for learning sites. Treasury approved the transfer of R10 million to Higher Health. DHET in collaboration with Higher Health will secure screeners and psychosocial support for CET Colleges. Health and Welfare SETA provided an additional R8.975m to Higher Health dedicated for CET programmes. The Department monitors compliance and impact through administering of a monthly questionnaire. Based on the responses, the Department conducts a detailed analysis to determine interventions needed by the sector

The Chairperson proposed allowing Members to engage with the Minister before he departs. She
thanked the Minister for the words of encouragement and appreciated the manner in which the DG had hit the ground running.

With the recent developments by our scientists on the new variant – what can be done in the near future on how institutions handle Covid-19? This comes after a recent uproar from the student community on decisions taken by institutions without consulting them. What is the plan for vaccinations in the PSET sector particularly in higher education institutions?

The Committee would implore all stakeholders in the sector to strive to have the correct information to send to constituents. Stakeholders also need to ensure that they obtain the correct information from the Department and the Ministry and assist in fighting against misinformation

Have we had consultations with senior management and finance offices in institutions?

Mr S Tambo (EFF) asked the Minister about the 75% pass rate for NSFAS student funding and mandatory vaccinations by certain institutions without consulting the affected stakeholders.

He was surprised that DHET did not mention the premature implementation of a vaccine mandate by some institutions. They have declared that there will be no registration or access granted to campus without a vaccine passport in 2022. These institutions are making these decisions outside of the broader debate in the country, especially considering the President was setting up a task team to consult on the viability and feasibility of a vaccine mandate to access certain spaces and services in the country. We need the Minster to comment on this because it falls in line with a concerning tradition in the sector by higher education institutions or rather the toxic institutional autonomy that makes these institutions take decisions outside of the broader democratic spirit of the country. This vaccine mandate implementation by the University of Stellenbosch, University of Cape Town, University of Pretoria and Wits University outside of the broader consultation is a concerning character trait. Was there any consultation with the institutions before they took this decision about the vaccine mandate?

Secondly, there is an incorrect assumption that to be opposed to the 75% threshold to retain NSFAS yearly funding is to support the institutionalising of failure. We must be able to read the pass rates in conjunction with socio-economic issues in our societies. No student goes to university with the intention to fail. No student enjoys failure or extends their stay. There are factors that obstruct students from performing well. We must caution against meritocracy which is not cognisant of socio-economic factors. We must engage much deeper on this. As a sector we must also be honest about the incapacity that exists in the sector. If you want the standards of students to be increased, then we must also demand that the sector entities increase their efficiency. You cannot want a 75% pass when NSFAS makes payments only in July or institutions do not have labs or adequate teaching systems or a proper ICT system. A sector that has been failing students cannot now expect standards above its own delivery. If your service delivery is poor, why are students being expected to perform at a particular level?

Ms C King (DA) asked if we are certain that fee-free higher education is sustainable. Considering Covid-19 and people losing their jobs the fiscus will not have enough funds. The feasibility of fee-free higher education should be relooked at because of un-sustainability.

She agreed with Mr Tambo about mandatory vaccinations at higher education institutions. It poses a serious concern as it affects other areas – what reasons were provided to the Minister for executing these decisions?

We have received numerous complaints from students about load shedding – has the Ministry done an assessment on how learning and teaching is affected by load shedding?

Mr T Letsie (ANC) appreciated the comprehensive opening remarks of the Minister. He agreed that a stern warning should be sent to those media houses about sensational reporting on a 75% pass of all courses for NSFAS beneficiaries. This perpetuates incorrect information which could destabilise the system. It reported that to obtain NSFAS funding, students must pass their courses with a 75% pass mark which created uproar in the sector. Secondly, we also have a responsibility to clarify these matters right at the beginning. NSFAS should have issued a media statement immediately after the misleading information was published.

We are not going to flip flop on fee-free higher education. We all know the history of this country and thus our students must have access to higher education. We must remember that NSFAS came as a response to the injustices of the past and the exclusion of black students from the higher education sector.

He asked about the phasing out of N1 to N3 subjects of the National Accredited Technical Education Diploma (NATED) which has been submitted to the Minister for approval. When is the Minister planning to phase out those NATED subjects – how far is he in approving this proposal?

Ms D Sibiya (ANC) noted the court case involving the Minister and the University of South Africa (UNISA). What was the decision about UNISA enrolment numbers and student limits?

Ms J Mananiso (ANC) said that DHET must find a better way of dealing with vaccination in the sector. The Minister reported to the Committee that DHET was profiling student debt; what is the progress on this? Are there plans to ensure that in 2022 UNISA will not go through another enrolments challenge again?

Ms D Mahlatsi (ANC) said the Minister spoke about financial management in higher education institutions and the ability to capacitate these institutions in financial management – can the Minister elaborate on this? A large portion of the Departments’ budget is transferred to these institutions and agencies. Are there significant challenges with the disbursed funds, which brings into question the capability of those responsible for this work. Has the Department implemented financial management development in these institutions?

What is the view of the Minister on this "passing 75% of courses" matter even though we believe that consultations are still taking place?

Ms N Marchesi (DA) said we need to ensure that NSFAS funding is provided in an equitable manner. The lack of cooperation between Social Development and SARS makes the matter very difficult. Students go to expensive primary and high schools yet when they enter university their parents cannot afford university? Some students lived with their parents all their lives but when it comes to applying for NSFAS, they claim to have been staying with their grandmother so they can qualify for NSFAS funding. How can we ensure that there is collaboration between the Department of Social Development and SARS on this?

Is DHET looking into having satellite offices across the provinces for NSFAS to assist students when applying for NSFAS funding? If so, has the Department costed these satellite offices?

With TVET colleges, there are some courses that have been accredited by Umalusi and this accreditation is quite complex. She probed the fact that some courses and programmes are the same at universities and TVET colleges. However the TVET course is viewed as inferior to the one offered at university even though they are the same. Is it possible that one could have the majority of TVET college programmes accredited by Umalusi? We want to encourage students to go to TVET colleges, yet we are not funding these colleges.

She requested a partnership with primary healthcare so that there is a serious and deliberate drive to ensure that students and personnel are vaccinated.

The Chairperson highlighted the importance of the Department clarifying these performance requirements from NSFAS as it is viewed as a scheme to reduce the demand for NSFAS funding.

Minister’s response
Minister Nzimande replied that almost all the questions required some level of detail that the officials will be able to provide.

The modifying of NSFAS guidelines has nothing to do with saving money. This is not the primary aim but that as a country we cannot institutionalise failing. All that Mr Tambo is arguing about is catered for by the N+1 rule, which allows students to fail once. There is no other country in the world that actually has this N+1 rule.

There are students who come from the poorest background but perform exceptionally well. The Committee would help greatly in agreeing that we do not institutionalise failing and understand the consequences of having students stay for too long. The N+1 rule is adequate to deal with all the matters raised by Mr Tambo. We cannot be seen as a country that is favouring poor performance at the cost of others who may perform exceptionally.

NSFAS continues to consult and it will report back to the Ministry and it will even come and engage the Committee. We must take joint responsibility – for both students and institutions. We cannot ignore the lack of performance of students that get into university. It would be helpful not to speak in abstract when this matter was still in process.

The sustainability of NSFAS is always going to come up. We can all agree that the annual demand for NSFAS bursaries growing every year causes significant problems if the budget does not complement these increases.

He did not have time to report on the work of the Ministerial Task Team and getting in too deep into student funding and other issues but was happy with the progress that the MTT is making.

The UNISA enrolment case was on appeal. We are appealing because we cannot allow the court to dictate our enrolment plans. This is not the space of the judiciary. He did not believe that UNISA will be doing this again, otherwise UNISA will be punished. This over-enrolment messes up the plan and also creates expectations from students. These plans were presented to Parliament and were endorsed here.

The DHET officials will answer financial management support for HEIs.

He agreed with Ms Marchesi saying there are parents that are able to send their kids to Hilton College, which is the most expensive school in South Africa but yet cannot afford tertiary education because there is NSFAS. People are continually finding ways to cheat the system at the expense of others. We are now taking a stance on pursuing prosecution for people who are defrauding the system, especially those that can afford to pay for their children’s tuition.

The 'missing middle' is being addressed by the MTT. We have a good relationship with SASSA and almost all SASSA recipients are supported by NSFAS. If you lie to say that you are a SASSA beneficiary when you are not, you deserve to be jailed for that. It is fraud and those parents that do that will be prosecuted.

NSFAS will address the question on satellite offices.

Not all the courses at TVET colleges were accredited by Umalusi. Other programmes are accredited by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) or Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO) but we are concerned that all programmes must be accredited.

Higher Health is doing very well in collaboration with the institutions. The intention is now to strengthen Higher Health within the constrained resources.

The Chairperson thanked the Minister for his responses and time to engage. We hope that the 2022 academic year will start far better than how 2021 commenced.

National Student Financial Aid Scheme on preparations for 2022 academic year
Mr Ernst Khoza, NSFAS Board Chairperson, said that the Board and NSFAS executive were fully aware of the role of NSFAS and its reality. NSFAS funds more than half of the student population across the sector and in some cases NSFAS it funds up to 80% of the undergraduates in the historically disadvantaged institutions. Both the Board and management had done a number of things to mitigate for what could happen at the beginning of the 2022 academic year.

The first was a strategic meeting by the Board with full attendance of the student leadership to review the student funding criteria. Policy papers were developed for consultation with stakeholders in the sector. Those policy documents formed the basis for the recent most talked about suggestions. The whole "75% performance pass rate" is mischievous. We are conscious of the challenges posed by our inability to respond swiftly on student applications. We now have a portal that grants immediate response to SASSA beneficiaries. We are doing everything we can to resolve this. We found that there are about 2000 students who wrongly claim to be SASSA beneficiaries – this will not be left unattended and prosecution will follow.

We are sitting with a shortfall of R10 billion for the next academic year due to poverty levels going up as well as unemployment. This has a huge impact on the funding base and the ability to fund prospective students within the constraints of the budget. We do not have the mechanisms to reject students who do not qualify and this is the biggest challenge. If we cannot get the R10 billion, there will be no funding decisions that will be taken and the consequence will be dire.

As a way of mitigating the NSFAS funding challenge, it has brought in broader consultation with institutions from the top tier to ground level and also invited SAUS national leadership to join in. This was quite helpful and we discovered that more Vice Chancellors were now willing to sit with student leadership, which was not the case before.

Ms Nthuseng Mphahlele, NSFAS Chief Operating Officer, gave the presentation which covered the programme update; the 2017 – 2020 close out process and the 2022 funding policy applications and funding decisions.

As for the utilisation report of universities, the allocation was R30 billion. There has been an increase of 7% in number of funded students in 2021 compared to 2020. This number is expected to grow further in 2022 because of the increased demand for NSFAS funding as a result of the  COVID 19 pandemic. NSFAS has modeled the budget implications for the future demand of bursaries with the associated cost projected to be R10 billion in 2022. Discussions are underway at DHET and National Treasury to source the required funds. For 2021 funding, 9 098 students remain unfunded.

For TVET colleges, as of 29 November 2021, 342 128 students are funded at TVET colleges; institutions have also confirmed claims for these students to the value of R5 305 847 133. NSFAS has paid 91% (R 4 865 529 179) of the funds to TVET colleges. The TVET college sector is currently busy with the Trimester 3 academic cycle. A few institutions have not submitted their registration or have submitted very low registration records for this academic cycle this creates challenges for the confirmation of final payment dates as well as completion of appeals for Trimester 3.

Universities South Africa (USAf) on 2022 academic year
Prof Ahmed Bawa, USAf Chairperson, presented the state of readiness from USAf’s perspective. The presentation covered enrolments at universities in 2022; impact of the Covid-19 pandemic; challenges; points for discussion in preparation for 2022 academic year; calendar planning for the 2022 academic year; student funding; student debt which is currently R11 billion and the cost of debt is R1 billion per annum; student and staff safety; vaccinations; modes of teaching and learning; and student housing (see document).

South African College Principals Organization (SACPO) on 2022 academic year
Mr Sanele Mlotshwa, President of SACPO, said there were notable challenges due to Covid-19 for the college calendar, mode of learning and adjusting to Covid-19 regulations. The NSFAS management fee was still posing a challenge for effective execution of duties by colleges. The TVET sector faces the challenge of insufficient funding allocation particularly for financially needy but academically deserving students. The disbursement delays have caused student unrest in most colleges.

On college readiness, data was gathered using indicators, which were nine questions submitted to each college. From those answers, it made a determination of where colleges stood. He went on to talk about the responses of the colleges and outlined responses from various colleges in different provinces.

In conclusion, SACPO has conducted fruitful discussions with NSFAS and DHET and strides were made. NSFAS will pay a project management fee to colleges to administer student allowances. SACPO also participated in the review of bursary rules and guidelines. It recommended enhanced communication between NSFAS and TVET colleges and that NSFAS assign delegated persons to work with each college or pay colleges the management fees as agreed.

South African Union of Students (SAUS) on 2022 academic year
Mr Lukhanyo Daweti, SAUS Secretary-General, focused on vaccinations; NSFAS funding decisions; appeals; postgraduate funding; student accommodation; wrap around support programme; and SAUS recommendations.

SAUS is assisting with the activation of 2022 NSFAS applications, particularly in rural provinces such Eastern Cape, Limpopo, Northern Cape and Free State. The aim of SAUS is to work towards a smooth beginning of 2022 so that new first years can enter peacefully into the sector. SAUS is still working well with stakeholders. However, the silence of other stakeholders when it comes to the discussion of mandatory vaccination is really alarming. The Union has started engagements with DHET in pursuit of having all stakeholders meet under one roof so that all the outstanding matters can be dealt with adequately. Whilst some matters are resolved already, there are concerns that require attention in preparing for 2022.

Firstly, SAUS want to state categorically that we encourage all students to take the vaccination. SAUS is of the firm view that it is imperative in ensuring we sustain the fight against COVID-19, However, SAUS is unequivocally opposed to mandatory vaccinations by HEIs. Students and workers must be afforded their constitutional right to choose to vaccinate. SAUS denounces and condemns the decision taken by some institutions to make vaccines mandatory. Universities inherently are spaces of debate, science and intellectual discourse, therefore SAUS is lobbying the Portfolio Committee to make an intervention on this matter before it gets ugly.

On funding decisions, SAUS suggested approving a sizeable number of first-time students before the beginning of 2022 academic year. This means less pressure during registration to deal with the many other problems. The approved funded list should to be sent on time to institutions so that the clearance for registration can run smoothly.

SATVETSA on 2022 academic year
Mr Siphiwe Khumalo, SATVETSA President, said that SATVETSA comes here with a heavy heart for having lost two of its members who drowned in a hotel pool during an SRC camp last night at 21h30. These were two young people who dedicated their lives in working towards improving the lives of other students. We are working closely with the college to investigate what really happened so that their families may have some closure.

The SATVETSA presentation covered enrolments in TVET colleges; introduction of online application and its challenges; 2022 academic year state of readiness and proposed viable solutions.

SATVETSA said that it envisages a challenge with current students whose status has not been resolved yet; they are still regarded as exceptions. This will pose a challenge when these students are registering in 2022 as it will then be said that they owe. The continuation of DHET bursary rules and guidelines remain unchanged, yet it has caused a series of problems this academic year.

Ms King said that NSFAS was raising concerns about the sustainability of NSFAS. In terms of the R10.1 billion shortfall, what other plans are there to ensure that there is adequate funding? She noted that it had opened a second application process; what were the reasons for opening up a second application process? All those who applied, how many were successful? Lastly, was there any consideration to ensure that students who really need funding do receive it?

She asked DHET how it is planning to ensure that the 'missing middle' is catered for.

Mr Letsie was pleased with the NSFAS presentation as it covered in detail the prominent issues for the commencement of the 2022 academic year. Universities should have a direct interest in having an NSFAS that is stable. If NSFAS is not stable, it will collapse the PSET sector. It is in the best interest of the institutions and all stakeholders to ensure that NSFAS is protected and assisted to address its challenges in order to perform its mandate effectively. In previous meetings, it was discovered that there might be some monies owed by universities to NSFAS because of deficiencies in the system. He implored the stakeholders to work together to address those deficiencies and return those funds owed to NSFAS or for those funds to be kept as upfront payments for students. If we do this, we might reduce the R10 billion shortfall.

Secondly, the communication system between universities, colleges and NSFAS paints a picture that makes it seem like NSFAS was the problem. Earlier last year, we had a problem with Tshwane North and South Colleges who could not disburse the funds but did not own up to that at the beginning when they realised that they could not disburse the funds. We saw students resorting to prostitution as a result but NSFAS had transferred the funds to those institutions. We need a special task team that must act so students do not have to wait until June/July to be provided with funding. As NSFAS is busy improving its ICT system, institutions and stakeholders must work with them and DHET must also bring itself closer in facilitating strengthening these relationships.
Has a proper audit been conducted on student debt because every year it keeps going up? We need to ascertain who really owes NSFAS.

He thanked NSFAS for opening a special window for those who may have missed the first application period. Some of the students have come back to us and thanked us in tears and jubilation for this.

Ms Mahlatsi congratulated the Department and NSFAS for the next academic year. It is important that NSFAS understands that it is the hope for many young men and women coming from poor and middle class families. However, the successes also rely on the efficiency and effectiveness of HEIs to have structured and stable systems to disburse the funds.

She was grateful to the Department for its seriousness and commitment to ensuring that all these issues were addressed. It was important as parliamentarians were also striving to encourage academic excellence. Socio-economic hardships are what many of us and students have had to overcome. We hope that we will not see hippos [armoured vehicles] and hear gun shots at the beginning of the next academic year.

The Chairperson wanted to understand from the Director General about DHET's Central Applications Clearing House (CACH) system. It seems to be placing the burden on universities and colleges to refresh their data and determine the space available to take in more students in a particular course.

Can Members get a confirmation about the projections for enrolments for 2022 and if they were in line with the targets that have been set. There were reports that there were lecturers who do not put in the effort for innovation given the current reality of the pandemic; why is there no blanket approach to this for all the institutions? Senior management of institutions have put these measures in place but some of the lecturers were not adapting to the new reality.

The vaccination plan adopted by some institutions is very concerning because there are students who feel that they were not consulted. Young people could potentially feel like taking this to the streets next year. The SRCs should also take responsibility for this – with the same energy that is used to communicate about academic and financial exclusions of students.

We need to address the exclusions of students in the middle of the year. We need to find some middle ground on this.

She implored USAf to engage its Vice Chancellors to open their doors for MPs to conduct individual oversight visits. Members often do these visits in conjunction with other stakeholders. This opens up opportunities for the institution to engage with those stakeholders to address any concerns that the stakeholder may be able to assist with.

We need to ensure that there is a better budget coordination amongst the departments so that we can have a clear sense of how much of the fiscus is channelled towards student funding.

The Chairperson cautioned NSFAS to strengthen its response turnaround time. If students have missing documents, that needs to be communicated to the students swiftly to alleviate the pressures that NSFAS often experiences from students and other stakeholders.

SAUS response
Mr Daweti replied that SAUS appreciated this platform and opportunity to engage at this level. The majority of the leaders on this platform are the products of the student movement. Their interest is always closer to our interest. He felt positive after hearing the presentations from other stakeholders. He was put more at ease by the NSFAS presentation; it gave much hope that we are good to go for next year and that the house is in order. If there are any challenges, we believe that they will be picked up at an early stage.

He commended USAf and implored Prof Bawa to try and put together in the same room Vice Chancellors and the student leadership. We would like to engage the VCs. There is this weird feeling about SAUS when it comes to VCs; they think we are the enemy but we are a stakeholder that would like to see progress in the sector. We want to ensure that we resolve the challenges together without having to go to the streets – which requires energy and is a waste of time. Let us continue to engage with the hope that we will begin the next academic year smoothly.

SACPO response
Mr Mlotshwa said that accommodation fees should be dealt with by NSFAS. We must appreciate the successful distribution of laptops by NSFAS to the class of 2020. The data and other matters about those laptops was still under discussion.

On the lessons from 2021, the TVET sector has learnt about the unpredictable Covid-19 surges, which has pushed the sector to be ready for virtual learning. It has pushed us to be close to 4IR.

On college capacity, it is an open secret that colleges do not have capacity to disburse NSFAS funds. We hope that NSFAS lives up to its commitment to provide the management fees so that the capacity can be enhanced for colleges to disburse the NSFAS funds. There have been engagements on this matter and a solution will soon be devised.

USAf response
Prof Bawa replied about student accommodation safety and security. There are two types of accommodation – university based or university leased and external accommodation which is often referred to students by the universities. He was unable to respond about the safety and security of external accommodation.

We are waiting for the Department to clarify the fee increases for 2022. We are hoping for inflation-linked increases of about 5% but an increase of 7% for accommodation. This is what has been submitted to the Minister for now and USAf was waiting for a response.

On the articulation of technology on both sides – the system was not designed to articulate with university systems. We hope that now there will be a clear and well defined project definition and the articulation of that system to the universities.

The audit of student debt happens on an annual basis. Universities also write off debt every year. The Durban University of Technology (DUT) would write off about R20 to R30 million worth of debt every year. These write offs are required by the auditing requirements. It does not make sense for universities to carry debt on their books that is not current.

On vaccinations, universities have adopted different approaches to this. He would take this matter forward to the Vice Chancellors. The fact is that we cannot leave things as they are. Currently, we are not even near where we need to be in vaccinating the student population. Clearly, universities must address communication and engagements with stakeholders and devise ways in which students can be encouraged to vaccinate.

All 26 universities have measures in place to address the challenge of student debt but this does not mean that all students are covered. Even last year with the major pandemic crisis, all 26 universities had some systems in place to deal with the crisis.

He suggested that oversight visits to the campuses were arranged in advance. Most VCs have said that those visits were done at such short notice. When arranged in advance, it assists the administrators and VC to ensure they make themselves available for those oversight visits.

Most students do not necessarily want to go back to the previous way of contact teaching and learning.

NSFAS response
Mr Khoza said that NSFAS has noted all the comments and questions from Members. He assured the Committee and stakeholders that his Board will try its best to address the challenges that were still persisting and that at the beginning of next year the streets will be spared from protests.

The Chairperson said that the Committee will indicate the questions not responded to which will be answered in writing.

DHET response
Dr Sishi said that it remains clear that there are still gaps that needed to be filled to ensure that the 2022 academic year commences as a success. On the need to support the efforts of the Minister to mobilise additional resources to the system, Cabinet has already taken a decision that the Ministerial Committee on the Budget will sit next week to look into all the resources in government to ensure that the effort to improve access to high learning was realised in the PSET system.

He commended USAf for driving transformation and changes in the system particularly in universities. He was concerned about the position of some universities for undermining the constitutional rights of students on mandatory vaccinations. The mandate is to promote vaccinations but this must be done in consultation with the stakeholders.

On the strategic direction of the sector, Dr Sishi said we note the concern about the declining resources channelled towards the sector.

The Minister has already approved the phasing out of N1 to N3 NATED courses. It is reasonable to say that from 2022 up to 2025 it would have been phased out or that by then the numbers would have been reduced substantially. On Learning and Teaching Support Material (LTSM), this must be aligned to multi-modal teaching and learning – this was clear and we will be looking into how it can be done.

The elephant in the room is the 'missing middle'. The Minister of Finance and Minister Nzimande have started an engagement on possible options for this. We are to present a progress report with the Treasury Director General on this.

The Chairperson rehashed the pertinent items that came out of the engagement. At this point the matter of funding is the most distressing challenge in the sector. The DG and the Minister stated that the Department is in engagements with Treasury to try and address this. The Committee would like to receive frequent updates on this. The Committee can be a motivating force for the Department.

The Committee would also like an update on the consultations with stakeholders on the guidelines. The 'missing middle' matter must also be addressed – updates on the discussions on this will also be appreciated.

All stakeholders present today need to work hand in hand. Even on campuses there must be a close relationship between the SRC and the management of these institutions.

The fee increases must be communicated clearly to the bursars and it must not fall onto the students. It must not be the students that end up suffering and struggling because of these fee increases.

The auditing of the student debt is something that should be done so that we can have a clear picture of this student debt.

She disagreed with Prof Bawa about informing institutions about oversight visits in advance. Members are allowed to conduct unannounced oversight visits because often when the institutions are informed in advance, the grass gets cut the day before and management would ensure that everything is orderly.

The meeting was adjourned.


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