Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande, believes that with the many interventions government has set in place to tackle the issue of tertiary education funding, #FeesMustFall protests are avoidable.
Speaking at a briefing on his department’s state of readiness Nzimande said government will do all it can through various measures such as providing funding through NSFAS and engaging various stakeholders over the next two to four weeks, to ensure there is stability in institutions this year.
The minister added that government doe not expect protests to resurface again, despite reports that have circulating on social media of students regrouping once they return to institutions, to protest against increases that were announced at major universities such as Wits University late last year.
Government to engage legitimate protesters only
Nzimande acknowledged that student protests are not a new occurance in South Africa explaining that even in the apartheid era, they were common, save for the fact that they were mostly held in previously black-only institutions.
“Most times protests legitimate, calling for improved access into post-school education. #FeesMustFall is a legitimate call and government is on the same side as students,” he said.
Nzimande however hit out at what he called “opportunistic forces” hijacking the protests, for instance those who had burned public and private property during last year’s protests, as well as others discrediting government for political gains and others seeing instability as a business opportunity to start private colleges and make money off students.
“It is important to engage with those raising issues genuinely,” Nzimande said.
New universities and colleges to cater for new students
According to Nzimande, all 26 including three new universities that were opened last year, are able to cater for 197 400 new university entrants this year. The department expects 63 950 of these new students to be enrolling in science programs.
Nzimande added that his department’s mandate is to develop a skilled and capable South African workforce that will contribute to an inclusive growth plan. Central to this is granting access to Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Colleges, which play pivotal role in cater to the country’s critical skills needs.
To help deal with the influx of new students, three new TVET Colleges will be opened this year in – one Limpopo and two KwaZulu-Natal, adding to the 50 existing ones.
TVET Colleges are able to absorb 207 510 new entrants this year.
With regards to funding for poor and missing middle students, Nzimande said the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) will be funding 205 000 first year students at universities and 200 000 at TVET Colleges.
[Image – CC Government ZA]