“We are not saying that there aren’t any glitches, but we are ready to absorb the numbers that we [have capacity] to take,” said Minister Nzimande on Thursday.
He was briefing the media on the outcomes of engagements with higher education stakeholders to discuss preparations for the 2017 academic year.
The Minister held the meetings between 17 and 24 January 2017 with a range of higher education stakeholders, including university student leaders, university vice chancellors as well as the Executive of the South African College Principals’ Organization representing Principals of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges, and the Technical Vocational Education and Training College Governors Council (TVETCGC) representing TVET College Councils.
During the engagements, stakeholders discussed the need for the country to ensure, over the medium to long term, that Post-School Education and Training (PSET) is funded at an appropriate level, and that sufficient financial aid is made available to support all academically deserving, financially-needy university and college students, through loans, grants and bursaries, while keeping student fees affordable.
Significant progress made for the poor
Minister Nzimande said significant progress has been made in expanding access to higher education for the poor through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), with more than 1.7 million students funded since 1994.
“Last year alone, NSFAS supported about 480 000 poor undergraduate students to access TVET colleges and universities, disbursing loans and bursaries totalling R14 billion. This figure will rise to R15.2 billion this year.”
As stated in the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement, government will provide an additional R9 billion for NSFAS over the three-year period ahead.
NSFAS will be funding more than 200 000 first-time and continuing students at TVET colleges in 2017.
However, the Minister acknowledged that money alone is not going to solve the problems, as there were many issues raised by students during the summit held in Durban in 2015.
Speaking to SAnews, the CEO of Universities SA, Ahmed Bawa, said the stakeholders are happy that government has stepped in and they have arrived at a common understanding on how to deal with the issue of historic debt relating to NSFAS students.
He said the universities will work closely with the students and families to ensure that the successful students are given an opportunity to continue with their studies.
“We are very happy that there’s such a lot of progress made with regards to NSFAS students. That’s a huge advance, and we are all hoping that over a period of time, the facility would be expanded to include students from the missing middle,” Bawa told SAnews.
Hellen Ntlatleng, the President of South African Colleges Principals’ Organisation, also acknowledged the serious improvement and interventions by government since 2009.
“We have increased pass rates at colleges and have even increased our interaction with industries. They take us more seriously than before. A lot of government institutions are now partnering with us, and we have moved from job seekers to job creators.
“With the Department of Small Business Development, we have created Centres for Entrepreneurship in nine provinces. We are building incubation centres where we are teaching our students how to become entrepreneurs.
“For me, that’s excellent and shows great improvement,” said Ntlatleng, who is also a principal at Ekurhuleni West TVET College.
She also reassured parents that TVET colleges are ready for the 2017 academic year and that the students will get excellent service all the time.