A member of the EFF Student Command (EFFSC) Wadzanai Mazhetese, who is president of the Student Representative Council (SRC), headed to the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Thursday to file an urgent application for the court to review and set aside the decision by Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande to cut the first year students at Unisa by 20 000.
In December of 2020, Minister Nzimande wrote a letter to the University of South Africa (Unisa) and ordered it to reduce the intake of first year students which was more than 50 000. Nzimande said the university had over-enrolled.
He said that this letter was sent because the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) would be unable to meet the large demand for payouts for first-time students.
In 2018 when Unisa had over-enrolled, Nzimande said the university was warned that it had to adhere to its enrolment planning targets and that it would be penalised in the 2020/2021 financial year.
The Minister says that despite the penalty that was imposed, the university has once again not ensured that it did not over-enrol in first-year prospective students.
EFFSC spokesperson Xola Mehlomakulu said that Minister Nzimande does not have the power to give orders about how many students a university can take.
He said the decision made by Nzimande was "irrational, unreasonable and disproportionate".
Secretary General of the EFFSC, Muzi Khoza spoke to Newzroom Afrika saying that the decision taken by Minister Nzimande was reckless and seeks to force students back into environments in which they fall victim to crime and poverty.
"We are taking Minister Blade Nzimande, on the 2nd of March, to court to call for court to set aside the decision and allow those 20 000 students to register," said Khoza.
Khoza says that the EFFSC wrote to the Minister in late 2020 but they received no response, so they decided to go to court.
He says that the letter which the Minister wrote to Unisa lacked logic or superior argument besides the argument about NSFAS.
"According to the letter sent by Unisa, which affirms its capacity for the enrolment of this year. It tells that Unisa is in good capacity to take more than the 20 000 students which Dr Blade Nzimande is prepared to cut off," said Khoza.
Khoza says that there is no justifiable logic to exclude these students as Unisa makes use of distance learning and students won't be in need of residences or classrooms for their studies to take place.
Unisa spokesperson Tommy Huma said the enrolment target for 2021 should 376 000 and this was approved by the Department of Higher Education and Training.
He said that the university was required to cut down on first-time students in 2021, especially those studying for higher certificates as that “generally” and “adversely” affects the Technical, Vocational and Training Colleges enrolments.
Huma said that the number of students who were transferring from other institutions and returning students are unaffected by the enrolment targets for the year.