The Minister said since he received advice from the Council on Higher Education (CHE) earlier this month on university fee adjustments for next year, he has been in consultations with a wide range of stakeholders, including university vice-chancellors and council chairs, student leaders and youth organisations, organised labour, faith communities and government officials.
"The purpose of these consultations has been to tap into the collective wisdom of higher education stakeholders in order to find solutions to what is recognised as a societal problem.
"While considering the CHE’s advice, we want to ensure that academically capable young people are not denied access to higher education because they come from historically disadvantaged backgrounds, while at the same time ensuring that universities are sustained and strengthened.
“We must work towards solutions that assist academically deserving young people, whose families are struggling to raise sufficient funds to support them at university,” Minister Nzimande said.
Government has over the past two decades invested significant resources to assist students who come from poor families through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). It is committed to ensuring that this support is strengthened going forward, and that it continues to progressively implement free higher education for the poor as per the current government policy.
Mid-level income families
Minister Nzimande reiterated that government is also committed to providing better support for middle class students.
"Government recognises the burden that working and middle class families bear in supporting their children through basic education and into higher education, and the need to find workable solutions for these groups that are not currently supported through NSFAS.
“Currently we do not have sustainable mechanisms to support these students, and we look forward to the work of the Ministerial Task Team on a Financial Aid Scheme for Funding Poor and Missing-Middle Students at universities and Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Colleges, which is chaired by Sizwe Nxasana, who is also the chair of NSFAS.”
He said while these issues are being discussed, stakeholders have requested that the Minister not make any immediate announcements and that further time be given for stakeholders to discuss all possible solutions to what is a very complex problem being faced by higher education and training and the country at large.
"In the discussions, there has been general agreement that sustainable solutions for the higher education system must be found, and any short term decisions need to consider the longer term consequences for the sustainability and strengthening of our public institutions.
"There is also broad agreement that the challenges we face are a societal problem and the responsibility cannot be shouldered by government alone. It is a collective responsibility that includes all sectors of society.
“Consultations will continue for another two weeks, after which a formal announcement will be made regarding our recommendations on the issue of university fees for 2017,” Minister Nzimande said.
He also appealed to students, parents, community leaders, business leaders and members of society to work with government.