Blade must present plans to address students’ concerns

Issued by Chantel King MP – DA Shadow Minister of Higher Education
06 Mar 2023 in News

Note to editors: Please find attached soundbite by Chantel King MP.

The DA and its student organisation DASO notes with great concern the NSFAS-induced accommodation crisis taking place at institutions of higher learning across South Africa.

The DA condemns the violence at institutions of higher learning. While we understand the frustrations of the students, violence is not the answer. This crisis has been aggravated by the questionable demands made by institutions regarding registration fees.

Threats by the Wits University SRC to the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, and his family cannot be condoned.

The silence of Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande is evident of the flawed National Development Plan’s target of increasing university and TVET enrolment, but did not factor in the infrastructure challenges, such as student accommodation, and unsustainable student funding this will require.

The DA notes that institutions are key role players with the power to waive registration fees. The unwillingness and disinterest of institutions to engage with their primary stakeholders (students) to establish a way forward cannot be allowed to continue.

We therefore call on the Wits University council and SRC to urgently appear before the higher education portfolio committee on the way forward. Concerns around national issues should not be directed towards the institution but directly to the Minister and the Department of Higher Education.

At the joint portfolio meeting of higher education and public works it was evident that communication around the Student Housing Infrastructure Programme (SHIP) were non-existent. To date phase 1 and 2 of the SHIP project, only 9 721 beds have been completed with 27 989 still in the planning phase. The slow pace of the SHIP project, which is marred by corruption, rezoning and funding challenges, will not see the realization of 300 000 beds completed by 2030.

To add injury to insult, NSFAS on realizing its unsustainability to fund all qualifying students, is playing referee and player with the accreditation of student accommodation providers (a function that should be done by institutions themselves as per the minimum norms and standards for student accommodation) raising questions on the autonomy of institutions and setting accommodation allowances to R45 000 per year.

In lieu of the above, the DA proposes the following solutions:

  • The Minister should take the portfolio committee of higher education into his confidence at our next meeting and present the draft comprehensive funding model;
  • He must present a detailed analysis of how many students per institution will be affected by financial exclusions;
  • We urge NSFAS to re-evaluate the price cap on urban accommodation to be more in line with inflation and prevailing accommodation prices;
  • Utilise funds from the National Skills Fund (NSF) to offset financial exclusions of some academically deserving students;
  • Institutions of higher learning must create debt acknowledgement systems;
  • Set up a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Home Affairs and South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) to assist international students studying at South African universities; and
  • Allow for policy amendments for private institutions to enroll more students in light of the fact that public universities have limited space available.

The lackluster approach to policy implementation and the out of touch approach to the unsustainable funding model of both institutions of higher learning and NSFAS is holding institutions and students at ransom. The DA will work tirelessly to ensure that no academically deserving student is left behind.