The Office of the Public Protector and the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) on Wednesday said Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande was receptive to their interventions on the challenges facing institutions of higher learning.
Acting Public Protector Kholeka Gcaleka and the SAHRC met virtually with Nzimande on Tuesday evening to discuss the challenges in higher education that have seen students across the country protest financial exclusion and demand the scrapping of historical debt.
The Chapter 9 Institutions have received numerous complaints relating to higher education, including the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas).
In a joint statement, they said Nzimande stressed that his department was committed to cooperating with them on the challenges facing students.
The minister explained to them that the financial shortfall at Nsfas was due to the extended academic year and the fact that the scheme continued to fund students during the early days of the national lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The minister further outlined that Cabinet had approved a further R6.3 billion to support higher education and that Nsfas will be able to cater for the needs of students in need of financial assistance. The minister was concerned that pressure is being exerted on government to solve all the challenges in higher education alone, while the private sector is the biggest beneficiary of resources cultivated by government and Nsfas – a sentiment shared by the SAHRC,” the statement reads.
Earlier this week, the public protector and the SAHRC met with Nsfas to discuss complaints about its efficiency, effectiveness and communication with students and prospective students.
They said they also used their meeting with Nzimande to engage him on the implementation of the SAHRC’s findings and recommendation in its 2016 report that looked into higher education.
“This report highlights numerous systemic challenges at universities that remain prevalent, including concerns over funding at institutions of higher learning. The commission also raised concerns about the protests at various universities in the country on account of funding; the conduct of police in dealing with protesting students; and the rule of law with the aim to find out what the department is doing about these issues.”
The SAHRC said it would continue to engage with the minister and his department on a number of issues, which included demands to scrap historic debt and to register all students, among other matters.
“Our engagements with both the minister and Nsfas will take place on a regular basis. The SAHRC is invested in ensuring that there is a way forward and that challenges in the higher education sector, including on funding, are mitigated.”