On 1 February, the Minister of Higher Education, Dr Blade Nzimande, addressed the media on the 2022 academic year and its state of readiness. The speech indicated how the past two years have seen the introduction of multiple programs to try and curb the spread of the COVID-19 without hindering the provision of quality education in higher institutions.
The Minister did not address the current concerns regarding NSFAS payouts for the 2022 academic year but stated that a discussion surrounding these issues will follow this week. However, no confirmed dates have been released in this regard at the time of publishing.
As South Africa has exited the 4th wave of the pandemic the Minister stated that the situation looks promising for more students to be welcomed back onto campuses and a move towards full contact learning. This remains a possibility if students and staff members continue to vaccinate, and institutions make suitable provisions to cater for these persons. Although students are urged to vaccinate, Dr Nzimande stated that the rights of those who choose not to get vaccinated are equally protected.
The Department of Higher Education has expressed that although it is satisfied with the number of enrolled students in scarce skills, it has not reached its desired numbers. These skills include engineering, teaching and medicine.
Fees and financial matters
The increase in university fees for the 2022 academic year has drawn public interest. The increase was discussed within the sector of Higher Education and Training, and in order to ensure that the increase remains affordable but fair for the sustainability of academic institutions, the sector decided that fees can only be raised at the current rate of inflation, 4,48%.
The total number of tertiary dropouts remains low at 2% for undergraduates and at 3% for postgraduates. A primary reason for these dropouts is student debt.
The Department of Higher Education is working together with the finance department to form policies that allow for student loans to be taken out at a low interest rate to avoid students, who fall outside the NSFAS bracket, from accumulating debt.
Students whose household income is more than R350 000 per annum are to be defunded. The Minister highlighted that students whose yearly household income exceeds this amount and apply for NSFAS funding will lose their funding and could be charged with fraud.
This is a developing story.