Public Protector probes state of higher education sector

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University of Pretoria students during the #FeesMustFall protests in 2016.
University of Pretoria students during the #FeesMustFall protests in 2016.
PHOTO: Thapelo Maphakela/Gallo Images
  • The Public Protector has undertaken an investigation into the higher education sector.
  • Tuesday marked the start of a two-day round of engagements with students and stakeholders.
  • Discussed during the engagements were student funding and violence during protests.

The Public Protector South Africa (PPSA) has embarked on a probe into the higher education sector.

The alternative dispute resolution (ADR) meetings started on Tuesday and form part of an own-initiative investigation into the state of affairs in the sector.

"The need to address problems troubling institutions of higher learning as characterised by mass protests at the beginning of each academic year triggered the investigation," said PPSA spokesperson Oupa Segalwe.

A team of investigators, led by Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Deputy Public Protector Kholeka Gcaleka, met separately with representatives of the South African Union of Students (SAUS), Universities South Africa, Department of Public Service and Administration, and the police.

Representatives of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) sat through the sessions, all of which were held virtually.

Segalwe said:

The ADR session with SAUS centred on student accommodation, book allowances, withdrawal of NSFAS funding, violence and destruction of property during protests, and non-repayment of NSFAS money after exiting the system, while the session with Universities South Africa focused on suspension of academic activities, financial exclusion and the withholding academic records.

He said the public service department was engaged on the employment of students in the public service after having their academic qualifications withheld on account of outstanding tuition.

The police were engaged on issues of safety and security around campuses.

The ADR meetings will continue on Wednesday.

The PPSA team is expected to engage representatives of NSFAS, the Presidency, the Department of Higher Education, Innovation and Technology and the Ministerial Task Team on NSFAS.

"The engagements will focus on student funding and related matters; possible solutions and support on funding issues; funding models for higher education and changes or improvements the review of the funding model will bring; and improvements that can be expected following the Ministerial Task Team's review of NSFAS," said Segalwe.

"As we said last year when we commenced this intervention, our aim is to find lasting solutions to the challenges that continue to plague the higher education sector. In particular, we want to ensure that students are in lecture halls at the beginning of each academic year rather than swarm the streets in protest for access to tertiary education. We hope our effort will mark a turning point in this regard," said Mkhwebane.

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