Department of Higher Education ready for 2017 – Nzimande

Cape Town – Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande says his department is ready for 2017.

There are more than 500 000 places available at tertiary institutions for young people to further their studies in the country, Nzimande said on Thursday.

He was responding to fears that student applications for 2017 would flood tertiary institutions which would be unable to meet the demand.

These opportunities include those at 26 public universities which have places available for about 197 400 new entrants wanting to further their studies, while technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges have about 207 510 new entrant opportunities.

Nzimande said the number of applications was not a scientific measure of the spaces available at universities and TVET colleges.

He encouraged students to make use of government’s Central Application Clearing House (CACH), which assists learners who have applied for places at institutions of higher learning but were not accepted after the release of the Grade 12 exam results.

The CACH service makes it easier for universities to match qualifying students to courses that still have space.

Nzimande assured parents and students that there would not be any fee increases for National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas) qualifying students in 2017.

There would also not be any upfront registration fees for these students, he told media at a press briefing on Thursday.

Days before most universities in the country began the registration processes, Nzimande outlined government’s plans to deal with the student fee crisis, which led to widespread violent protests in 2015 and 2016.

The minister and his team, which includes Nsfas CEO Msulwa Daca, said although registration processes had begun at universities, Nsfas applications were still open.

Nzimande said there had been a number of interventions to assist students from poor and working class families.

These include arrangements for Nsfas to pay registration fees for all students funded by the scheme as an upfront payment to universities and TVET colleges in January each year.

“Therefore, Nsfas qualifying students will not pay any registration or upfront fees in 2017,” he said.

He said Nsfas qualifying students who were registered in 2016, and were successful in their studies, but who have accumulated historical student debt with institutions of higher education, would also be allowed to register in 2017.

Students would have to have passed at least 50% of their 2016 studies to qualify.

This year, Nsfas will be funding 205 000 first-time and continuing eligible students at universities and 200 000 students at TVET colleges to the value of R15.2bn.

Nzimande said the department was going to do all it could to ensure stability in the 2017 university year.

He said student protests were not new and that most of the protesters’ concerns, including the calls for fee free education, were legitimate.

But, said Nzimande, there were “opportunistic forces trying to hijack” the student protests.

Some saw the protests as an opportunity to discredit government, he said, while others in business were watching gleefully, waiting for universities to fail.

This was so they could jump in and make money from private institutions, he said.

“The expectation is that the current crisis will drive quality and confidence in the public system to the point where scores will seek refuge in more stable and reliable private institutions. The casualties will be the poor and working class students, whilst students from the middle and upper class families will opt for private provision or studying abroad.”

He said academics would also move abroad or to more stable and better paying jobs in the private sector.

The department was already getting reports, Nzimande said, that institutions were losing academics.

He emphasised the need to continue to engage with stakeholders to promote stability.

“This means that those student leaders and organisations genuinely concerned about access and affordability should maintain high levels of vigilance, as there are opportunists in their midst, ready to hijack their noble cause.” DM


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