NSFAS funding disbursement; 2023 Public Sector Education and Training (PSET) Sector Academic Year; Sectoral Response to Loadshedding, with Ministry

Higher Education, Science and Innovation

22 February 2023
Chairperson: Ms N Mkhatshwa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


The Department of Higher Education and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) briefed the Committee on the NSFAS funding disbursements; the state of readiness for the 2023 academic year and the sectoral response to loadshedding. The Department presented on each academic branch (TVET Colleges, Community Education and Training and Universities) and outlined its enrolment plans, funding issues, infrastructural issues, appeals, student accommodation, registration and the NSFAS funding decisions.

The Minister provided the highlights for the academic year, where the Technical and Vocational Educational and Training (TVET) college classes commenced on 23 January 2023. Enrolment was 497 032 for the Ministerial approved programmes with an additional 59 383 enrolments from programmes funded through other funders. This totalled 556 450 but was far from the 2 million student target for 2030 NDP plans.

Members expressed concern about the fact that the Vice Chancellor of UCT, through mutual agreement, would be leaving the institution with a golden handshake of R12 million. Members also referenced a similar matter unfolding at the Vaal University of Technology (VUT) and asked that the Minister furnish the Committee with official reports on these two matters. Another serious concern for Members was Gender-Based Violence Femicide (GBVF) on campuses. Added to this was that it was estimated that 10% of GBVF cases were in the PSET sector. Members heard that the Department was one of the first to have a policy framework for GBVF.

The Department presented a sectoral plan for loadshedding. The Department had conducted a survey into loadshedding at public universities but only 18 of the 26 universities responded. The survey led to the conclusion that universities would be required to report annually on progress in developing Energy Management Strategies. Members were pleased to hear that a blended learning policy would be pursued to support a seamless learning experience as a response to load shedding.

It was explained to Members that the NSFAS received 978 402 first-time applications, which was a 14% growth compared to last year. NSFAS had funded over 657 000 new applicants, representing 66% of those who applied. 81% of these were SASSA beneficiaries.

Regarding funding, the NSFAS budget was projected at R47 billion, the highest ever in the history of the NSFAS to fund an estimated number of 1.835 500 million students or applicants. All NSFAS-funded students would be allowed to register without paying an upfront registration fee. A TVET college living allowance of R6 000 per annum was introduced.

Members were unable to understand how students went to register every year without knowing if they were approved for funding. There was collusion among the service providers on prices which they inflated but people wanted to blame NSFAS. When one looked at residential places for First-time Applicants, NSFAS received 987 000 applications and made funding decisions for 657 000 of those students. This was for 67% of the students who were funded. The Chairperson requested that the NSFAS furnish the Committee with a write-up of how it came up to the R45 000 student accommodation cap. To address the administrative capacity of the NSFAS, the Department has allocated R65 million to assist the NSFAS in improving its administrative capacit

Members welcomed the NSFAS R45k cap even though the strategy had mixed reactions. The Committee expressed its commitment to supporting NSFAS as it took the matter of student accommodation to the Competition Commission. This matter related to service providers colluding on rental prices to exploit students and the NSFAS.

The Minister thanked the Committee and all stakeholders for ensuring that challenges were dealt with collectively.

Meeting report

The Chairperson received apologies and announced that the Committee would be receiving updates from the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) on the commencement of the 2023 academic year. The Committee recently conducted a two-week oversight and visited various institutions – 21 sites in total, and a balance was created between the Community Education and Training (CETs), and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges and Universities.

Minister’s Remarks
Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Innovation, said the year’s preparation for the academic year was marked by a collective and seamless programme, between the Department, the Committee and institutions. This enhanced the Department’s ability to effectively respond to institutional challenges, especially at the beginning of the academic year. He thanked the Committee and other stakeholders for assisting in ensuring that these challenges are dealt with collectively.

He commenced by expressing his condolences to the family and friends of Mr Mboneli Vesele, an executive at the University of Fort Hare and was assassinated. Condolences to Ntokozo Xaba at the Tshwane University of Technology who was killed in what appears to be a GBVF attack. Also, to the family of Mabutho Jenamo, a community education college student attending his classes at Reneilwe Community Learning Centre in Mamelodi East who was attacked and killed.

He said that the previous week, the Department also received information on the death of students from the Eastern Cape Midlands TVET College. The students were murdered on Sunday, 12 February 2023, while socialising at a public entertainment venue. Two other students from the incident were injured but they were now in stable condition.

There were consultations with all the PSET stakeholders to which a different approach was adopted this year in ensuring the effective monitoring of education institutions in relation to their preparedness for registration and the academic year. Both university and the TVET branches developed monitoring tools to assess the activities on the ground across all of them to ascertain whether the registration processes are proceeding as planned and to deal with any matters requiring immediate attention. The Committee was also involved in the monitoring exercise.

He provided the following highlights for the academic year. He said the TVET college classes commenced on 23 January 2023 and enrolment was 497 032 for the ministerial approved programmes, with an additional 59 383 enrolments from programmes funded through other funders. This totalled 556 450. This was far from the 2 million student target for 2030 NDP plans but requested the Committee to travel with the Department on the issue of the size and shape of the PSET system. This would be a priority for him in this financial year because the Department needs to ramp up the college sector.

Registrations and admission processes have been standardised as well as the issuing of certificates. The use of technology was also embraced in the enrolment of students in TVET colleges, and a huge number of students were accepted through online applications.

The registrations and academic year commenced on 16 January and closed on 20 February 2023 but institutions still allowed late registrations. The enrolment was projected to provide 101 124 390 spaces, which was an additional 41 545 spaces.

Community Education and Training (CET) colleges
The colleges reopened on 11 January and the Department would be introducing civic education in all CET colleges. This year the Department would be introducing a new programme on civic education, which will teach students the importance of protecting and supporting SA’s democracy, fostering a better understanding of citizens’ roles and responsibilities, human rights, constitutional rights, and countering racism and other forms of stigma and discrimination.

Student funding
The NSFAS budget was projected to be around R47 billion - the highest ever - in the history of the NSFAS to fund an estimated number of 1.835 500 million, which was a massive breakthrough given where South Africa came from with the apartheid regime. All NSFAS-funded students would be allowed to register without paying an upfront registration fee. Where problems were picked up on this, the Department has moved closer to assess the institution. A TVET college living allowance of R6 000 per annum was introduced.

The DG would detail the disturbance posed by loadshedding in institutions. However, the Ministry established a joint working group between the DHET and the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) to develop inclusive plans and approaches to the challenges brought by loadshedding. This included the implementation of a hybrid learning and teaching method.

In conclusion, whilst the limited infrastructure could be acknowledged as an obliterating factor for the full expansion of the system’s growth requirement, institutions continued to grow to prioritise access policies for grounding learners from disadvantaged backgrounds.

PSET State of Readiness for the 2023 academic year
Dr Nkosinathi Sishi, Director-General, DHET, took Members through the presentations which covered a myriad of issues for the 2023 academic year. Each academic branch (TVET Colleges, Community Education and Training and Universities) of the Department outlined their enrolment plans, funding issues, infrastructural issues, appeals, student accommodation, registrations and NSFAS funding decisions.

The Department also presented a sectoral plan for loadshedding. The Department conducted a survey of public universities but only 18 out of the 26 universities responded. The survey asked the following questions: how institutions responded to loadshedding; interventions introduced to manage it; if the institution had formulated an energy strategy and if that strategy has been costed. As a way forward, universities must report annually on progress in developing Energy Management Strategies. In addition, a blended learning policy would be pursued to support seamless learning experience.

[Please see presentations for more details]

The Chairperson appreciated the support of the Department during the two-week oversight. Members acknowledged many issues. The Vhembe TVET College was the type of college others should learn from. There were many lessons learnt from various institutions but there were also standard matters of concern such as funding. There were concerns around management and governance that should be stabilised. Issues around safety and security which were cross-cutting, as well as infrastructure, were matters that the Committee would want to engage the Department on further and zoom into these areas and deliberate on them.

Ms K Khakhau (DA) said she wrote a letter to the Minister on 7 February regarding the state of the curriculum for mechatronics across the country. She was yet to receive a response to that letter. DG Sishi and DDG Futshane, during oversight in Mpumalanga, confirmed that the review of the curriculum on the study of mechatronics was not yet ventured into by the Department. What commitment can we receive from the Minister on when this review can be expected?

Given the infrastructural issues that the sector was faced with, perhaps digitising the sector would be a sustainable solution to address the infrastructural lags and shortfalls. Having a broader scale of digital education across all institutions, what limitations would the sector have and how could they be curbed? Is there feasibility to roll out this kind of education?

Ms D Sibiya (ANC) asked about the plans of the Department to expand the capacity of the PSET sector to meet the National Development Plan targets.

Mr T Letsie (ANC) referenced a previous engagement with the Department on the UCT matter and said this morning he woke up to a News24 article claiming that through a mutual agreement, the Vice Chancellor would be leaving the institution with a golden handshake of R12 million. The Department had not informed Members about the issues, and he hoped the Minister would cover that.

Last week, Members also learnt that the Vaal University of Technology (VUT) council decided to place the VC on special leave pending some investigation. He also hoped that the Minister would cover the work that the Ministry was doing to stabilise the institution and take into consideration the issues at the VUT adding that it was fresh from an administration.

He proposed that the Committee and the Department should convene a meeting to deliberate on these institutions and what the issues at both the UCT and the VUT were.

Mr B Yabo (ANC) appreciated the amount of work that had been done and that the Department had a big portfolio. Therefore, to have progress registered in such a big department was notable and credit must be given where it was due. However, where there were challenges, one should deliberate on those challenges so that they could be dealt with. He referenced the University of Cape Town (UCT) matter as well. The Committee should be given a report on the whole saga because it looked like there were details that Members did not have. Members could not rely on media reports on the matter. The Committee should have been hands-on with the UCT matter to ascertain for itself what was happening. Members needed a report on what exactly happened at UCT with the Vice Chancellor and what the underlying issues were. Members should be in a position to ascertain whether there was merit to some of the accusations made against the VC, at one point, and at another point, the Chairperson of the Council.

He also asked for a report on some of the matters raised on social media regarding the NSFAS. There was a letter written to the Speaker by Honourable Holomisa (UDM)   to also test the facts on it. One must be open to processing the facts on any matter in the sector, for better or worse. The NSFAS has been known to hog the headlines for the wrong reasons or if it is true that there were challenges in the institution; Members would like to have first sight of those challenges. A presentation on this matter must be made to provide satisfaction on whether one was dealing with facts or not.

Where it concerns issues of a few cases related to Gender Based Violence and Femicide (GBVF) on campuses – a single case was one too many. This scourge has been spoken about multiple times and ways of dealing with it. It was worrisome that one would have these cases in spaces of academia. To have these types of cases in a space like academia, at this rate, speaks to more than the spaces themselves. Further analysis on the matter of GBVF at institutions should be zoomed in on carefully and closely. Perhaps a brief on the numbers that may not be reported should be done and the Department must also ensure that safety is provided to the victims of these cases. If this was not done, the country would experience a spiralling of these cases.

Mr T Mogale (EFF) also asked the Minister to give Members a brief response on what was happening at UCT and what led to the resignation of the VC. Protests have been happening at the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN) and the VC has brought police and security onto campus to terrorise students. The VC had closed off all avenues of engagement with the student leadership. He asked the Minister to intervene. One of the students was shot with a rubber bullet in the eye and the student lost their eye. Members have also been inundated with pictures of students sleeping on the floor of the university because of the NSFAS issues. This needs a ministerial intervention.

The Chairperson reminded Members that on the UCT issue, the Committee wanted to engage the UCT leadership but was advised by the Minister that he was waiting for a report from the Council. The Committee has subsequently been advised that the report was sent to the Minister by the UCT Council. The Minister would send it to the Committee, and this was scheduled for this term.

Minister’s responses
Minister Nzimande replied that digitisation was something that the Department was currently dealing with, and the focus was on building a modern infrastructure that was in line with the latest technologies.

The Department wanted to turn around the PSET system this academic year. The DHET did not receive any additional money for colleges, besides the annual inflationary linked- increases, in fact, there have been cuts and there has not been any funding for the expansion of TVET colleges. Given the total amount of money that we have, we need to think about what can be done to expand the college sector without sacrificing the need to reach 1.62 million university enrolments by 2023. The question is how to source additional funding or from which programme do we reprioritise? This is what he asked the DG and senior management to deal with this financial year.

The Department has tried to expand the college sector. New campuses have been built over the last eight to ten years and some are currently being built. This year, a huge skills centre would be opened for just under R150 million built by the Wholesale and Retail Sector in Sekhukhune. This money came from the skills fund, not from the fiscus to prioritise rural areas and build these skill centres and colleges there.

Regarding the VUT and the UCT, the Minister said he has always been aware of what was happening because he was in touch with the Council Chairpersons. As much as this matter was publicly reported, strictly speaking, and legally, it was a matter between an employer and employee. Similarly, it was the same as the VUT matter. As the Minister, he had to respect that. He was aware that the UCT council was meeting last night. What came up this morning arose out of that meeting. He agreed with the Chairperson of the Council that a report would be compiled after last night’s meeting. Due process had to be allowed to take its course. Hence, he requested the Committee before to allow the institutions to follow due processes.

The Chairperson of VUT has been updating the Minister on a weekly basis and that the Council was dealing with the matter. He has since informed the Minister that the Council had dealt with the matter and was ready to brief the meeting. The Minister just had not had time to meet with the Chairperson of the VUT Council.

One needed to understand that as the Committee could do things illegally. When things were still under consideration, he could not just speak about them but had to wait for the process to unfold and be concluded; otherwise, that was tantamount to interfering with the process. You put your foot wrong, you are liable to be taken to court, and so on because the Minister started making comments while the process unfolded. The process must be respected, and people’s issues have to be handled with care and decency. As soon as the VUT provides the information, it must first go public with it; as the Minister, he could not do so first. He could not interfere, come out and comment on issues that were subjected to processes taking place. He was aware of the discussions.

Regarding the issue raised by the Honourable Holomisa, he had a habit of making allegations that were later proven to be unfounded. He has done this before, claiming that he was interfering in his own Department, but he was proven wrong by the labour court. He also accused a respectable member of society, Advocate Pansy Tlakula, the former Chairperson of the IEC, of making false allegations that were proven wrong in court. The latest was the people involved in buying into SAA and were involved in other legitimate businesses, which he (Holomisa) accused of wrongdoing. He was proven wrong again in court.

On the NSFAS accommodation, it has been in the same building in Wynberg for 20 years, from when it was still handling far less than a billion rands of money with fewer students. When Dr Randal was the administrator, he was sitting on this case about space and the size of the NSFAS has grown. He instructed him to go and find accommodation for the NSFAS. He also told the new Board when it came in. He visited the NSFAS and he found it was impossible to work there. He was not involved in the processes that the NSFAS used to acquire the building. They have assured him that there was absolutely no foundation for the allegations. There was also no truth about them paying for buildings they did not occupy; instead, they had to rent holiday accommodation while fixing the premises to fit their business. The Committee was more than welcome to invite the NSFAS management to come and account for this but he has not picked up anything wrong and the Auditor-General of South Africa audited the NSFAS.

Often what was being dealt with in the NSFAS was political. Our detractors of this government do not want to see the NSFAS for what it was. It was a huge success in supporting children of the working class and those who were poor. Therefore, he was not surprised when people took a snipe at it. Members should also not believe what they see in the media. Instead, request the organisation to come and brief the Committee.

Our institutions are part of society and gender-based violence was a societal scourge. Our institutions have got young people, some of whom were men in the main - do these wrong things to women. Hence, it was estimated that 10% of GBVF cases were in the PSET sector. The Department has done a lot on this matter. The Department was one of the first departments to have a policy framework to deal with GBVF. It was adopted and covered all institutions. He just received a report on a study work he commissioned, led by the Chairperson of Usaf, on how to fight GBVF. When Members conduct oversight visits at institutions, they must ask these questions. Higher Health has also been reporting to the Committee and has a lot of information in dealing with staff and student wellness, including GBVF. It has developed systems to report incidents of GBVF and has counselling facilities and methods to deal with victims of GBVF. This has been reported to the Committee. Our institutions are part of the wider society.

We know what was happening on all the campuses where there were protests, including UKZN. The Department has a tool that monitors everything that is happening on campuses. Everyone has a right to protest, but no one has a right to destroy and threaten life. He told the VCs to act because we do not want deaths arising because people act beyond the law’s bounds. We do not want police and security on campuses, but VCs are also responsible for protecting life on their campuses, especially if a protest threatens life.

Three years ago, he commissioned a study on safety and security. The report has been received and the Department would like to share it with the Committee. The report outlines the safety and security issues at campuses and how they can be dealt with. The report goes into depth to say what factors are leading to the rising safety and security issues. Our campuses were not prepared to be able to deal with instances where life is threatened. Universities and colleges are not security institutions but given what has been happening, they must be given the capacity to manage safety and security. He did not like that a few VCs had bodyguards. A few college principals walk with heavily armed bodyguards because their lives were under threat for a variety of reasons and some of them were about tenders at institutions.

Minister Nzimande said he visited the University of Fort Hare, and the Chairperson was also there. Hopefully, the institution would be invited by the Committee for further engagement on what has been going on there and what was being done about it. He heard very disturbing things in that meeting and most of the stakeholders were not aware of this fight against corruption. So, we ended up saying that campuses were communities. The Alice campus has over 11 000 students and was there for about 10 months of the year. Some things, like building community policing forums, were needed on our campuses to prevent acts of criminality including GBVF. These were the issues that must be considered and there must be do’s and don’ts where there were conflicts in our institutions. What were the things that must be done and what were the things that must not be done? This would ensure that our campuses were not militarised. We are part of society and levels of crime in our societies are very high.

The Chairperson reminded Members that there would be an engagement on the security issues in the sector. She was uncertain if a few principals had bodyguards, but during oversight in KZN, it almost felt like all the principals had bodyguards. This was uneasy and it should not be happening in spaces of higher learning.

The Minister would be sharing all the reports or studies with the Committee. One was uncertain when we would overcome the challenge of institutional stakeholder relations. Thinking about the noise on the R45 000 cap on internal student accommodation, noting the fact that the NSFAS and the Department would have engaged universities on this cap, we should not have any institution trying to challenge that because we engaged on it.

She asked the Minister to follow up on the student who had allegedly lost an eye during the protest.

Briefing by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS)
Dr Ernest Khosa, Chairperson of the NSFAS Board, commenced by expressing appreciation to the Committee for its hands-on approach to assisting the stakeholders of the PSET sector in addressing sectoral challenges. He confirmed that the NSFAS was part of the stakeholder consultations referred to by the Minister. These consultations covered the main issues raised in the NSFAS’ guidelines. The NSFAS also consulted all relevant stakeholders on matters reflected in the guidelines. This was all done in the interest of a smooth academic year.

The NSFAS received 978 402 first-time applications, which was a 14% growth compared to last year. This indicated an increasing demand for the NSFAS. The NSFAS funded over 657 000 new applicants, which represents 66% of those who applied. 81% of these are SASSA beneficiaries. Whilst there were delays in the issuing of funding decisions, these were mainly attributed to the delays in issuing matric results. This implied an increased volume of enquiries and subsequent pressure on the system. It led to more anxiety for the beneficiaries and their parents.

Regarding allowances, the NSFAS was pleased to announce that it is in a better position compared to last year; last year, the NSFAS could not make upfront payments until the budget allocation was received. Engagement and working with the Department have resulted in resolving this matter. From 1 January, the NSFAS made upfront payments to both universities and TVET colleges. The universities’ payment included one month of allowance, whereas the TVET colleges are by a direct payment system, though this required the NSFAS to receive registration information.

To date, there were 15 colleges whose registration information has been received and this would be paid on the 25th of this month, whereas other payments would be processed as and when registration information is received.

NSFAS knows that to ensure the sustainability of the scheme based on the increased demand, it is important to introduce more stringent controls. This came from the recommendations of the Ministerial Task Team, which recommended some controls that may already be incorporated in the funding guidelines. Two of these were as follows, clarity on the progression criteria and the capping of student accommodation.

On the former issue, the DG has addressed it extensively and it was introduced in 2022 after extensive consultations. He noted that some provisions may imply extensive exclusions, which were being addressed in-house. Regarding the cap on student accommodation, Members may recall that the NSFAS presented to the Committee the challenges of student accommodation experienced by the NSFAS. In determining the cap, the NSFAS consulted available research and various stakeholders and went as far as holding a student accommodation summit, which was well attended by stakeholders and reviewed existing data. The accommodation problem was huge.

The average cost of accommodation at the University of Limpopo was about R16 000 per student per annum. At UCT, the average cost came to R78 000 per student, per annum. The medium calculation comes to R38 000 per student, per annum. The accommodation cap was well above the median. It comes to R45 000 per student, per annum. In consultations with stakeholders, the NSFAS received positive feedback, but some institutions were above the cap. These were the UCT, Sol Plaatjie University, Rhodes, Wits, Stellenbosch University and the University of Pretoria.

Some accommodation providers charged way above the cap, up to R90 000 per annum, exploiting the system. Exorbitant accommodation costs were not a NSFAS issue alone; it was a thorn in the flesh for many black parents who may not even qualify for NSFAS funding. The police, the teachers, nurses, and the middle class generally cannot afford to pay R9 000 per month for accommodation. We should all take a stand against possible collusions by landlords and other service providers who had a hand in the instability at institutions and rendering the higher education environment an insecure area. Some providers were unwilling to lower their costs and there was a possible price collision in certain areas. To this end, the NSFAS took an unprecedented position to approach the Competition Commission to investigate possible collusions on student accommodation. On the other hand, to address this current challenge, the NSFAS was fast-tracking the accreditation of providers in the affected areas to ensure that there was accommodation within the price range.

NSFAS was busy processing appeals and the number of students who made the appeals this year came to 64 000, which was slightly lower than the previous year’s number. The difference was not significant, but the application rate has gone higher. This means that NSFAS had a better handle on the application process compared to the previous year. To this end, the Board established an independent tribunal to consider appeals and it was made up of student organisations, the Department, Usaf, SACPO and NSFAS. To ensure fairness in the appeals process, the tribunal will be chaired by an Adv Tommy Ntsewa. The tribunal would commence with its work next week.

In conclusion, this year, NSFAS processed applications through the new system and there were systems issues as expected but the system was being continually improved to address the challenges identified thus far.

The Chief Operating Officer took Members through the presentation, which covered this year’s applications for funding from students; details on funding decisions; funding appeals; payment of allowances and the introduction of the cap on student accommodation.

This year, the NSFAS introduced the R45k cap for student accommodation funding to manage the unregulated increasing costs for student accommodation. The NSFAS introduced this cap to manage the unjustified exorbitant costs of accommodation, which seems to be based on price collusion. Currently, there is a challenge of private and institution accommodation above the cap of R45k. NSFAS was working with the affected institutions and was fast-tracking the accreditation in the affected areas.

The Chairperson said it was important to come out strongly in explaining and supporting the decision on the R45 000 cap. As an individual member, she visited the NSFAS offices yesterday to follow up on cases that she had sent to no avail. She also gauged the discussion around the R45 000 cap. We need to own this cap and explain the cap from a perspective of education being a social good and therefore, any resource that supports it is also a social good. Anyone that seeks to exploit the state, the students and their parents and any resource that supports students must be dealt with. The NSFAS must be supported on its journey to write to the Competition Commission.

It cannot be that a student living in a smaller space and sharing communal spaces but paying the same price as a student living in an apartment not sharing. What is happening now is the private sector's response to the cap is to say let us put four of them with bunk beds and make each of them pay R6000 while they are sharing communal spaces. This is exploiting students. This is wrong and it has been allowed to go on for so long. We must control the narrative and be out there with infographics and statements explaining this exploitation. If the media does not want to grant us time to communicate this message, we must use the social media platforms we have available why we have gotten here and ask for support from society. The social compact that the President speaks of must now come to reality. If anyone says they cannot adhere to the R45 000 cap, they must explain why they cannot adhere to it. We must also bring the research that we have done that supports the decision taken.

On internal accommodation, for the likes of the University of Potchefstroom, it is disappointing because it should be the first one to adhere and assist in achieving this. We need to strengthen our communication and mobilisation of society to understand why we have to do this. Society cannot misunderstand this decision, and we must not allow it to be misunderstood.

She encouraged management to investigate the cases of students with parents who are not legally their parents. Perhaps, the DHET DG could link with the Department of Home Affairs DG to discuss this.

Regarding the call centre, SAUS went to do oversight there yesterday and they claimed that most of the employees were busy mingling, chatting, and sitting and not doing their work. SAUS even claimed that they used three of their phones to call the centre at that point and no one answered. She believed SAUS because when she did a walk-about last year, there was noise coming out of the call centre but it was not noise from people who were on calls with students but people chit-chatting. It was frustrating that this human resource was not optimally utilised. This call centre matter must be dealt with. They have been provided with the resources they previously needed.

Ms Khakhau referenced the breakdowns on the enrolment statistics, and asked if the Committee could receive, in writing, how many applicants qualified for placement but could not get access to the institution because of space limitations. The breakdown must include institutions. Secondly, she asked how the NSFAS arrived at the R45 000 cap for accommodation if NSFAS already knew that some institutions had higher property rates than others. NSFAS should be more innovative and there were platforms like DigsConnect, which a member of the NYDA board managed, and they could be part of the solutions in providing good and safe accommodation for students.

She was unable to understand how every year, students go to register without knowing if they were approved for funding or not. This was happening in a few institutions across the country. She wanted to know why this was happening because the NSFAS should know when the academic year commenced, the registrations commenced, and the number of students that applied and the number of students the NSFAS could fund. Therefore, it was completely nonsensical to have students that go to universities without a clue as to whether they would receive funding or not.

She supported broadening capacity within the call centre, but there would not be a need if proper system management existed. These crises at the beginning of the year would not be happening.

Regarding the curriculum review question, she hoped that the DG would respond.

During an oversight visit at Capricorn TVET College in Mpumalanga last month, she learned that there was a curriculum review lagging in the Department, which was confirmed. However, Members were yet to receive clear communication on when the review will take place and which other offerings were currently affected by this. Lastly, she asked for a clear breakdown of the limitations in the sector in relation to infrastructure development. Perhaps, digitisation could assist in the increased absorption of students.

Mr Mogale talked about the protests that were taking place in Pretoria and KwaZulu-Natal and that these would soon be resolved so that students could move on. Regarding the private accommodation providers, this is a serious matter that needs serious intervention by the Department. Even if different accommodation was used, especially cheaper ones, those landlords would want to raise their price because they would have seen an opportunity to make money. Perhaps, we could get the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure to assist in utilising some of its buildings in various provinces. These could be used as student accommodation buildings, saving government a lot of money. The Department should consider this as billions are spent yearly on student accommodation. Some of these facilities were two bedrooms occupied by four students paying R6 000 per month. The long-term solution would be the state providing accommodation for the students using the already existing buildings owned by the state.

Ms Sibiya asked about the challenges faced by the NSFAS concerning its upgraded ICT system and how it has performed compared to the previous year.

Mr Letsie said that last year the Committee met with the DHET, NSFAS, SAUS, Usaf and SATVETSA on 23 November for the state of readiness for the 2023 academic year. The Department reported that it told the Committee the projected number of First Time Entrants (FTENs), which were expected to be 196 000 with about 66 000 being on the scarce skills list. A lot of things were covered in the meeting including the commitment made by the NSFAS, which was that funding decisions would be made on time because the challenges that existed before were resolved; and that an adequate budget was confirmed on time by the Department and the eligibility criteria or bursary guidelines are finalised and would be dealt with on time.

Listening to the Department’s and NSFAS presentations, he knew that registrations were not finalised yet, and the Department must be invited to come and account and provide the registration data, intakes, and general and scarce skills enrolments.

The eligibility criteria were not satisfactory because Members received daily messages from students asking whether they were funded because the system did not update these students. Members asked the IT team at the NSFAS and said that the challenges were too many and were not responding to the challenges that students still experience. Members said that when a student applies in the system, the system must be able to pick up whether an application was submitted without sufficient documents or not. If not, it must inform the applicant of the missing documents immediately. The system was still unable to do so. This system was not assisting us at all. Some of the North West university students said that they were declined funding because they did not meet the academic criteria but the student passed all subjects. What is wrong with the system that it picks up even incorrect information? The Department should speak to universities to allow these students to sign Acknowledgment of Debt notifications (AODs) and be allowed to register while dealing with a dispute.

Members told the NSFAS in that meeting that it resolved all its systemic challenges before registrations closed so that students were not left outside the system. The NSFAS committed itself in that meeting that it would do so.

Regarding the R45 000 cap, he agreed with the Chairperson and was pleased that the NSFAS was approaching the Competition Commission on this matter. There was collusion amongst the service providers on prices and they inflated them but people wanted to blame the NSFAS. It cannot be. When one looked at residential places in these areas, a two-bedroom flat was about R8 500 per month but with two small beds of student accommodation in that flat, the NSFAS would be paying R9 000 but people were still saying that this was not enough. People want to pretend that the problem was with the government or the NSFAS but it was not so in this case.

He proposed that the NSFAS should gather information on the rent per square meter in these residential areas and what the NSFAS pays. This would help debunk the notion that students were sleeping outside because of the NSFAS when it was these service providers. They must be exposed. NSFAS was also not forthcoming and did not actively communicate important information to the public.

The Committee should meet with the NSFAS and deliberate on the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) matter and what the Honourable Holomisa said. NSFAS should be upfront on this and clear itself of these allegations if they are not true. The Department should also get involved in this.

TVET colleges tended not to submit supporting information required by the Department. This was becoming a problem and the DG and the relevant DDG were asked to intervene.

He asked which institutions would not be able to pay allowances at the start of the year and why. Regarding the third parties used by institutions to disburse student allowances, the NSFAS wanted to eliminate the third parties in these transactions, but what happened to the NSFAS Master Card that would be used by students this year?

Lastly, he asked the Department about the rewrites of exams and which ones those were. And if those students were able to progress to the next year?

Ms N Marchesi (DA) stated her problem with the R45 000 cap because each province has different property valuing and pricing methods. When NSFAS makes decisions that affect providers, would it be possible to involve them before the decisions are taken? It does not seem that the capping process was thoroughly thought through, and stakeholder engagement was not properly conducted.  

As for paying the students directly, it did not seem like NSFAS engaged the service providers on this to ascertain if they would be okay with it because not all service providers would support this. It might be too late to engage the service providers now and NSFAS should consider doing this properly with the service providers or homeowners. The price of houses closer to institutions had become so marketable and people took advantage of those homes and raised the prices. Then people who bought them faced high bond prices they could not afford.

The Chairperson asked for her robot and in the last couple of state of readiness presentations, she received her robot where the Department provided a spreadsheet of all institutions – which one is at green, red or amber and if classes had started or where and the status of registrations. This information was often requested from institutions and Members were aware of the challenges experienced by the Department on this matter, but it could not be accepted.

Mr Mogale mentioned the use of unutilised land or buildings owned by the Department of Public Works. The Committee would be meeting with the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure on this matter. It would have come up with a lot during oversight and there were cases where colleges had asked for space but nothing had happened. There were many other cases where unutilised buildings could be repurposed for educational purposes.

Mr Khosa replied to the question about the acquisition of the NSFAS headquarters and said that the Board considered a few variables before this purchase, which included whether there was a need for the NSFAS to move to new premises; what the policies of the organisation say about such a decision; if the decision would stand legal scrutiny and the last one would be related to ethical considerations. The NSFAS needed to move from the previous premises that were not ideal.

The Chairperson interjected and said that the Committee was aware of the position of the Board, but NSFAS needed to communicate directly with the public. The public needed to be brought into confidence about this matter.

Mr Andile Nongogo, Chief Executive Officer, NSFAS, welcomed the suggestions from Members and said that the organisation would ensure that these came to fruition.

On student accommodation, the NSFAS acknowledged that it could have done better in communicating with the public regarding this matter. On the issue of whether or not this decision was not thought through, the NSFAS relied on the study done by the International Finance Corporation, a division of the World Bank, which clearly articulated what the rate of accommodation should be for the NSFAS beneficiaries or the type of accommodation. The proposed cap is well above that limit. NSFAS also consulted individual stakeholders that were representing accommodation providers. There was also the Summit.

It must be understood that those who sought to benefit would never agree to a price reduction whether it was regulated or not. If the NSFAS should spend R13 billion for student accommodation, surely, the NSFAS should be in a position to dictate what it is willing to pay. This was not just about commercial accommodation but a social good that should be provided. We cannot accept that the NSFAS should be made to focus and consider the capital costs of acquiring accommodation when it was about running the operational costs of accommodation. This was not just dreamt out, it was contextualised. There was also work done by the Ministerial Task Team on the Scheme's sustainability, which indicated that controls should be introduced in the system, including the issue of accommodation capping.

He accepted that NSFAS needed to improve its communication lines with the public and the call centre, but improvements have been put in place. It is true that the contact centre in the past was around the fact that the system was not supporting the information that the agents were seeing. This year, the system has been improved to allow agents to see in real-time what was going on with their applications.

NSFAS was delayed by the issuance of matric results and the initial plan was to issue funding decisions on 31 January. It was not met because of the number of applications received. For first-time applicants the NSFAS received 987 000 applications and made funding decisions for 657 000 of those students, which was 67% of the students that were funded. Where statuses were not provided was where supporting documents were required from students. These documents included students capturing a different parent from what was seen on the system but as management was making enhancements, suggestions from Members would be considered. It would be difficult for the system to read these variables, but as enhancements took place, these issues would be resolved.

The system has worked much better this year compared to the previous year. It was also implemented for the first time this year so; some of the issues were initial teething issues on the system. Management wanted to get to a point where students knew if they would be funded or not by NSFAS throughout the year.

As for appeals, the ideal state would be one where appeals were concluded before the start of the registration period. There must be better coordination of the system to achieve this. The issue of appeals of continuing students used to be a process that was managed at an institutional level. This was brought closer to the NSFAS, enabling it to make quicker decisions. The team would work towards ensuring that this was done at the start of the academic year.

Institutions allowed students to sign AODs while the NSFAS waited for its processes. As for the Master Card, the TVET Colleges would be paid through this, and it was agreed with universities that the NSFAS would grant them a three-month notice to take over as it was still dealing with the issue of onboarding students.

Indeed, NSFAS would be enhancing its communications approach and there was a plan to continuously communicate through social media and other platforms.

The Chairperson requested that NSFAS furnish the Committee with a write-up of how it came up to the R45 000 student accommodation cap. This would enable the Committee to also communicate this important information to the public.

Dr Sishi said that regarding the mechatronics curriculum, recently, the President convened the Cabinet. Infrastructure development was among the key issues discussed because of its potential for job creation and the teaching and learning infrastructure. The DHET was a lead department in terms of successfully implementing its infrastructure programme. The Department had a lot to show – the first two universities built in post-apartheid South Africa were built by this Department, the Sol Plaatjie University and the University of Mpumalanga. These were living evidence of the success of the DHET’s approach and capacity to roll out infrastructure. Multiple campuses have been built in various provinces across the country.

Regarding student accommodation, the DHET in Mahikeng constructed 950 beds and there was capacity for a further 1 728 beds; at UWC, the Nelson Mandela University, Sefako Makgotho University and others, the Department has built hundreds of beds for these institutions. The Department has shown what it could do in terms of infrastructure projects. There were projects for new infrastructure lined up.

The Department allocated the Capital Infrastructure Efficiency Grant (CIEG) for all institutions for renovations and maintenance, but the colleges never utilised this grant sufficiently. He decided that if an institution was not able to utilise its infrastructure grant, it would be given to an institution that could do so. The work has started and by the end of this financial year, the funds would commence moving to institutions that have the capacity to utilise the grant. He ensured that he increased the capacity of the Department for rolling out infrastructure projects by ensuring that five implementing agents were contracted to the Department to be the extra capacity for the colleges. Infrastructure projects were taking place including the building of CET colleges in the provinces and land contracts were being finalised. He was confident that the Department would gradually grow in this area. The Department also created opportunities for its officials to learn about project management and other important skills to enhance capacity.

Digitisation in the Department was going to be funded by National Treasury. We are happy with the prospects but the institutions that do not utilise their allocated resources must understand that there would be consequences. The Department would ensure that these were incorporated in the performance agreements of all Principals and the Officials of the Department at the head office.

Regarding the curriculum matter, this is not only about developing a framework at national levels but also about teaching and learning. The people at the forefront of curriculum development are the lecturers in the institutions. When we talk about curriculum development, the first thing that comes to mind is the extent the lecturers are being supported to develop the capacity for curricula. The mechatronics curriculum is presented in eight colleges throughout the country. It is expensive and difficult to utilise it without the resources, therefore, the Department is looking into working with the private sector and employers so that they are part of the development of this curriculum.

To address the administrative capacity of NSFAS, the Department has allocated R65 million to assist NSFAS to improve its administrative capacity. The funds meant for the students were not touched for anything and those resources will be protected, especially from scrupulous service providers for accommodation running accommodation syndicates. The state would not continue funding their bills which continued going up. Unfortunately, the resources were limited, and it was impossible to fund those who were price fixing and watch institutions pay exorbitant amounts to them.

Dr Marcia Socikwa, DDG: University Education, DHET, said that the DHET was completing a set of reports based on the APP and one of them incorporated governance across all the institutions. This report would be shared with the Committee.

Regarding safety and security, the Department would be briefing the Committee on this matter on Friday, and it would be presented in detail. The DHET was hoping to hold a workshop with all the heads of security on 27 February.

The Department would be returning with the information regarding the VUT. It was engaging the institution monthly on some of the allegations raised previously and would also be ventilated in that structure.

Regarding registration data and general scarce skills data, the Department tried but soon realised that the data was needed to allow all the universities to conclude their processes, including those allowed for extensions. Only two universities provided data at short notice but hopefully, by the end of February, the Department would be able to submit a full report.

The Chairperson’s robot would also be furnished to the Committee once the information was received and compiled together.

Ms Thembisa Futshane, DDG: TVET College Education, DHET, said that in terms of the outstanding subjects that had to be rewritten for the NATED programmes of the TVET colleges, this was for the N3 and it was electrical trade theory. It was written on 6 February and uMalusi was currently in the process of approving the results of that subject.

The Chairperson thanked the Department and NSFAS for the engagement. There was more work that needed to be done to ensure that there was synergy among the stakeholders. It was all about getting things done. And one must do what needs to be done for what one has. The Committee would be expecting the data from the Department and the NSFAS.

The meeting was adjourned.



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