While a number of higher education institutions have been able to continue with their academic calendar, many TVET colleges have been left behind as they don’t have the funds to pivot to e-learning.
“E-learning hasn’t started. A link was sent out to students, but students couldn’t [consistently] access it. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t,” Kgakgamatso Chidi, Western TVET college’s SRC president told the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology on Wednesday 17 June.
Tebogo Mmotla, Western TVET college’s interim council chair, acknowledged that the institution had a number of challenges, and that besides learning, there was also the issue of vacancies.
Western TVET college, in North West, has four campuses and a satellite campus, but doesn’t have an HR manager, a finance manager or a procurement manager. Chidi said there is also a shortage of lecturers for the college’s 9,000 students.
At King Hintsa College in Eastern Cape, which has about 3,000 students, staff members and students do not have access to laptops and data.
“During the lockdown, WhatsApp groups were created [to support students] and these will continue beyond the lockdown. But the majority of our students aren’t NSFAS [National Student Financial Aid Scheme] beneficiaries and there is an issue of [consistent] internet connectivity,” said Professor Zwelinzima Ndevu, council chairperson.
The Department of Higher Education, Science and Technology has negotiated to provide 10GB daytime and 20GB nighttime data bundles for NSFAS and Funza Lushaka students for three months effective from 1 June. The department was also able to arrange for mobile operators to zero-rate educational websites.
In order to try to save the academic year, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande announced in May that under Level 3 of the lockdown, 33% of the student population can return to campus and campus residences.
But many TVET colleges don’t have campus residences, so students have to live in private accommodation.
Out of the three TVET colleges that presented to the committee on Wednesday night, only one mentioned having student accommodation. King Hintsa College has student accommodation on one out of its five campuses.
Calvin Phala, the acting SRC president at Orbit TVET college in North West, said that students were travelling more than 30km to get to campus because the Orbit TVET college doesn’t have any student accommodation.
At Western TVET college, students are so poor that they’ve resorted to sleeping with landlords in exchange for shelter, said Phala.
Other issues that TVET students were facing had to do with NSFAS allowances.
“There has been inconsistency with NSFAS allowances… some students are struggling to use their vouchers,” said Phala.
Ndyebo Ngcacu, the SRC president at King Hintsa, said that students from some campuses had not received their NSFAS allowances since the start of the academic year. Chidi said that at Western TVET college at least 900 students had not received their allowances this year.
The committee was also told that the Western TVET college’s former principal had resigned before his disciplinary hearing.
Mmotla told the committee that the former principal was being investigated for maladministration, misuse of state property, nepotism and embezzlement.
The disciplinary hearing had been set to take place on 25 March but the former principal applied for early retirement, which was approved with effect from 30 April, said Mmotla.
Committee members were not impressed with this. The DA’s Belinda Bozzoli said; “there should be criminal charges. It would be immoral not to pursue them.”
The ANC’s Walter Letsie echoed the sentiments, saying that “it can’t be that somebody is accused of serious crimes and then they retire”. DM