NSFAS Laptop Deliveries Will Start In April - Nzimande

Higher Education Minister, Blade Nzimande, gave updates on NSFAS laptops, NSFAS allowances and funding, Unisa and many other topics which are currently being discussed in Higher Education. This is in response to a list of demands submitted to the Minister by the South African Union of Students.

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Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande, has said that NSFAS laptop deliveries will commence in April while also giving updates and responses to other hot topics. 

This follows a list of demands handed to the Minister by the South African Union of Students (SAUS) who said that should the Minister not respond, they will then order a national shutdown of all higher education institutions.

NSFAS Laptops

These laptops have been an issue since the moment they were promised. Now, a year later, students will finally see some actual action being taken. This process was delayed for a long period of time for various reasons. 

Now, following SAUS demanding that "Laptops must be provided to students as the academic year starts" as students were promised laptops before the academic year commenced, Nzimande has said that the first deliveries of laptops will be made in April.

Financial Clearance and Historic Debt

SAUS demanded that all students' historic debt be cleared to allow them to register. 

The Minister responded saying that the department cannot afford to support all Universities to clear student debt and that budget cuts made this even more clear. In order for institutions to remain financially sustainable, they then cannot afford to clear student debt either. 

Arrangements are said to be made for students so that they can register at some Universities. 

As for historic debt, Nzimande said "historic debt of NSFAS-qualifying students is being addressed through a process between NSFAS and institutions. NSFAS-qualifying students with historic debt are able to register when they sign an Acknowledgement of Debt (AOD) form, while the process is underway."

Postgrad Funding

This has been a longstanding issue as postgrad funding options are limited. SAUS called for immediate provision of post-graduate funding.

The National Research Fund is used for postgrad funding as Nzimande said the new NRF policy does consider funding of students who were NSFAS recipients.

"This is an important matter that needs to be addressed in the policy review process that will be undertaken in 2021 by the Department of Higher Education and Training"

NSFAS Allowances

SAUS wanted all allowances to be disbursed in March, as this is when the academic year kicks off. 

Nzimande has said that allowances are disbursed according to Universities' individual timelines. Funds are released once NSFAS has received registration data, therefore funds can only be expected following registration.

NSFAS will only receive it's first bulk of funds from Treasury in April.

Unisa Enrolment Limits

Unisa ruling that 20 000 fewer students were accepted in 2021 ruffled feathers all over with some students even calling for the Minister, who gave the instruction, to be fired.

Nzimande has emphasised that Universities need to follow enrolmnt plans and that this instruction came as a result of Unisa not doing so. 

The matter is still in court.

Free Registration

Responding to SAUS' demand for all students to not have to pay a registration fee, Nzimande said the following:

As with payment plans for students who have fee debt, registration and minimum initial payments are determined at institutional level, in line with council-determined financial policies. NSFAS-qualifying students are not expected to make upfront payments.

Academic Records & Certificates

The Union called for all students, even those with debt, to be provided with academic records and certificates.

Institutions have mechanisms in place to make sure that this can happen, said Nzimande. 

He also said that he agrees with this notion as "no student should be prevented from accessing employment or other opportunities because they have outstanding fees."

Fee Increase

Not only did SAUS demand a zero fee increase but also said they were not connsulted on the matter. However, Nzimande then said that these discussions happen at institutional level and that students leaders are represented on university councils.

Nzimande emphasised that the Department and universities have reached another fee compact to ensure fee increases are kept at affordable levels and to ensure the sustainability of universities.

All institutions rely on student fees for their core operating income and additional funding is not available from government to support a zero percent fee increase.

Free Education

SAUS's demand to have free quality education for the poor and the missing middle is not the first of it's kind. Calls for this has been made for years, leading to annual protests.

They further support this by saying that the increase of VAT from 14% to 15% is meant to cover for free education.

Students from poor and working class are provided with fully subsidised, ie. free, education through NSFAS, said Nzimande, and the department is said to be examining the funding requirements to support missing middle and postgraduate students.

Academic Exclusion

SAUS demanded the following:

We demand suspension of academic exclusion for the 2021 academic year because of the impact of COVID-19.

To this, Nzimande responded by saying that decisions about academic matters are the domain of individual universities, within their relevant academic policies.

He then went on to say that he knows that 2020 was a tough year but that institutions had plans in place to support students.

2021 Academic Year

With calls coming for all students to be allowed back on campus now that we are on Lockdown Alert Level 1, the Minister is set to be releasing directions to support and guide institutions in managing the return of students and the start of the 2021 academic year.

Registration for first-time entering students has also been extended by two weeks.

NSFAS Appeals

Students are asking for NSFAS appeals to be opened and finalized within the next two weeks saying that students who intend to appeal are excluded from registration.

Minister Nzimande then responded:

I am informed by NSFAS that it is working hard to finalise appeals so that students are not prevented from registering in time to start the 2021 academic year.

The department has also made funds available for first-time entering students and resolved that issue. Registration has also been extended for a further two weeks due to this delay.

The Union also demanded justice an end to police brutality following the death of Mthokozisi Ntumba, an innocent bystander, during the Wits protest. To this, the Minister said:

I am deeply distressed by the death of Mr Mthokozisi Ntumba in Braamfontein on 10 March. The issues relating to the police investigation into the matter will be dealt with by the Minister of Police.

Nzimande has said that the issues raised by the Union require careful consideration and planning at the national level and will be addressed through the work that the Department of Higher Education and Training will be doing in collaboration with other government departments.

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