To address this it has been revealed that Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Doctor Blade Nzimande, has been in talks with Universities South Africa (USAf) for most of this week. The USAf is a an organisation representing the universities in the country, and vice-chancellors from it have been speaking to the minister about how to proceed.
It’s explained in an official statement (PDF) that many challenges are facing all parties involved, mostly boiling down to money. Students are struggling to fund their studies and many are weighed down by debt incurred trying to obtain an education while government and universities struggle to offer adequate funding to them due to poor economic factors.
In light of this the Department of Higher Education and Training, and the USAf, have announced a commitment to work on three “interventions” to continue into 2021. These are as follows:
Firstly, all 26 universities have committed to using several debt relief mechanisms on a case by case basis to enable academically-deserving students to register and complete their studies without undermining the underlying financial stability of each institution. Specific attention is being given to the plight of senior students who are NSFAS bursary recipients before the 2018 NSFAS policy framework and the ‘missing middle’ income students where severe financial difficulties may be experienced. Minister Nzimande called on all institutions to use mechanisms it has to address this difficult issue.
Secondly, Vice-Chancellors from all 26 universities affirmed their ongoing commitment to constructively engage with student leadership structures at institutional level to continue to find solutions to the matters affecting registration of students, including financial matters.
Thirdly, it has been agreed that a task team will be established urgently to begin work on a longer-term solution to support a comprehensive and sustainable student financial aid system. This process will begin immediately and aim to address both the challenges that are likely to face the system in 2022 and the development of a long term, sustainable student funding model and ecosystem.
While these are all promising prospects on paper, that’s the problem, there’s no mention of immediate action which is sorely needed. Lofty mentions of plans are written in the three interventions above, but they sorely lack distinct details like deadlines, Rand amounts or planned outcomes.
All of this feels very much like non-answers, something that is very familiar that we saw just days ago.
Following protests at Wits and the aforementioned death the South African Union of Students put forth 15 demands for Nzimande and his department.
Nzimande’s replies to these demands were, like today’s announcement, equally hollow with no news or action for struggling students.
[Image – GovernmentZA]