30 June 2023 - NW2321
Zondo, Mr S S to ask the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation
What (a) common and widespread issues, leading to annual student protests, has his department recognised and (b) steps have been taken to address such issues?
- Common and widespread issues leading to student protests.
- Most student protests occur at the beginning of the academic year between January and end of March of every year. Challenges that bring about student protests vary from year to year. In 2015 and 2016, the key issues were around free education. In 2018 and 2019, the demands of students included funding of the missing middle and postgraduate studies, academic and financial exclusions, accommodation, transport allowances for students not living in university-managed accommodation, issuing of academic records for students who are indebted to universities, as well as insourcing of university services such as cleaning, catering, and security.
- During 2020 and 2021, concerns raised by students included blended teaching and learning access to teaching and learning assistive devices (data, laptops, etc.), online examinations where most students demanded physical examinations whilst the rest preferred online, and Covid-19 vaccination (access and willingness of students to vaccinate).
- The common and widespread issues raised by students at the beginning of the 2022 academic year were on academic and financial exclusions; National Student Financial Assistance Scheme (NSFAS) funding; funding for the “missing middle” and postgraduate students; student debt; fee increases; student accommodation shortages, safety and security issues including Gender-based violence (GBV).
- Steps taken to address issues.
- The Department of Higher Education and Training (the Department) has analyzed the issues raised by students and has noted that some of the issues, given that our institutions are autonomous, will require institutional responses and intervention to resolve them while others are systemic issues and would require a structured and organized intervention from the Department and its relevant entities. It should be noted that some of the issues raised at a national level require medium- and long-term planning. These are being addressed in some way or another, but many may take time to address especially those that have significant financial implications, such as student accommodation shortages, funding for postgraduates and missing middle students. Some concerns resulted in policy review, development of regulations as interventions.
- At the national level, I and the Department have continuous engagements with the stakeholders to ensure concerns raised by students receive attention and are attended to. In 2023, officials from the Department conducted institutional visits during registration to receive registration updates and reports on any challenges that may arise and assist institutions to deal with these challenges.
- With regards to institutional related matters, the Department encourages regular engagements between university management and Student Representative Councils (SRCs) to resolve the concerns of students. All universities that experienced protests had engagements with SRCs and reached agreements on several issues, as a result protests ended. The Department monitors these engagements to ensure that they are fair and produce the intended results. The Department also continues to work with law enforcement agencies to ensure that when protests become violent, that there are no lives lost and university property is protected.