Implementation of fee free higher education going well in KZN – deputy minister

Deputy Higher Education and Training Minister Buti Manamela.  (Chester Makana, News24 correspondent)
Deputy Higher Education and Training Minister Buti Manamela. (Chester Makana, News24 correspondent)

Durban – The Department of Higher Education and Training is "quite happy" with the progress made in implementing the government's policy on fee-free higher education in KwaZulu-Natal, Deputy Minister Buti Manamela said on Tuesday.

Manamela visited institutions of higher education in the province, including the University of South Africa (Unisa) in Durban and Durban University of Technology (DUT).

"What we were doing today (Tuesday) was to monitor the implementation of the government policy on fee-free education education and to also ensure that all parties, including students, management and workers, understand what this policy is. Another reason was to also ensure the registration process is going smoothly," he told reporters after a closed meeting between DUT's SRC, management and National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) officials at Coastlands Hotel in Musgrave, Durban.

Manamela said they were "quite happy" about the progress made so far.

Marred by violent protests

"Of course, there are glitches here and there, but we've been able to clarify some of the concerns that students and management have," he said.

Registration at DUT has been marred by violent protests by students, as well as workers who want a 10% salary increase as opposed to management's offer of 5.7%.

There have been student protests at Unisa too over the slow pace of registration.

Manamela said Unisa's management had committed to extend registration until late Wednesday.

On the strike by DUT workers, he said: "We hope that both parties [will] come to an agreement because the strike has severely affected registration at DUT. They've only registered about 50% of potential students."

Register for free education

DUT SRC president Sphelele Mthembu said it was agreed in the meeting that qualifying students will be able to register for free education.

"As [the] SRC, we will go back to the ground and make sure all that was discussed and agreed upon during the meeting is implemented," he said.

He said their main concern was that students with debt were not allowed to register for free education this year.

He added that those students had qualified for NSFAS in 2016 and 2015 but "due to [a] shortage of funds, they were not funded" and ended up in debt.

He said they will make sure that all those students are registered.

NSFAS CEO Steven Zwane said they have communicated their outcomes to most of the Category One students – those who applied directly through them.

"We are busy evaluating all the applications that have come through the institutions to be able to give them funding decisions. We've also given institutions the right to go ahead and register the students that they've prequalified and then we will do the rest of the logistics during the course of the registration process," he said.

Funding decision

Zwane asked students to be patient and make sure they register because "the funding decisions will definitely be coming, especially for those who are qualifying".

"The qualifying ones are those that have an academic space, their family household income is less than R350 000 and then they've got their marks to be able to be accepted to their programmes," he said.

Dr Isaac Machi, deputy vice-chancellor: People and Operations at DUT, said they have not decided whether the academic programme at the institution would start next week.

"We are currently assessing the situation, based on the number of students that have been registered at DUT. We will decide on Thursday," he said.

He said just under 15 000 students have registered at the university.

"We hope the numbers [will] increase during the course of the week," he said.

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