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Giving students opportunities to succeed

Adequate funding and support are crucial in assisting students to succeed in their studies, says Minister Blade Nzimande.

The Minister, who is responsible for two departments: the Department of Higher Education and Training and the Department of Science and Innovation, spoke to PSM about the new integrated ministry and his priorities for the 2020 academic year.

Minister Nzimande said President Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision to align two key departments under a single ministry was centred on achieving greater policy integration, cohesion and impact.

“The core reason for the integration was not only to ensure greater administrative efficiency or bureaucratic streamlining, but to drive the post-school knowledge and skills development imperative more decisively, more effectively and with greater transformational impact in society,” the Minister explained.

Access to higher education

With regard to the Department of Higher Education and Training’s plans to improve inclusivity and accessibility to higher education for young South Africans in 2020, the Minister said the department continues to work with the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) to provide support to students who cannot afford to pay for university and college fees.

The department introduced the NSFAS bursary scheme in 2018 to make higher education free for qualifying first-time entrants into public universities and technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges.

In 2019, the bursary scheme was extended to cover both first-time entry students and second-year students.

The Minister said in 2020, it will cover first-time entry students, second-year students and third-year students.

“The bursary scheme is being phased in at universities over five years, with a new first-time cohort added each year. By 2022, the scheme will cover all cohorts of students across the university system,” he said.

Students currently in the system will not be affected, he said, giving as an example fourth-year students who will remain in the old system until it is phased out.

He said in 2019 alone, the NSFAS funded over 550 000 students, both first-time entry and continuing students, at TVET colleges and universities. In 2020, he said the NSFAS will support 45 to 50 percent of the undergraduate student population at public universities.

The Minister said the department’s cohort studies have shown that NSFAS students, on average, perform better than students in the overall population.

This bursary scheme is meant to cover full tuition costs, books and learner support materials, and to provide subsidies to assist with accommodation, living expenses and transport costs, where appropriate.

He said through NSFAS, the department also provides funding for students from deserving and working-class backgrounds at TVET colleges.

“The substantial investment in poor and working-class students over the 2019 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) amounts to R82 billion for university students and R20.4 billion for TVET college students,” the Minister explained.

Student housing, more funding

The Minister said the department’s infrastructure priority for the sixth administration includes the development of decent, affordable student housing for universities and TVET colleges.

“The Student Housing Infrastructure Programme has been developed to accelerate the provision of 300 000 beds over 10 years. The first seven universities under this programme have received funding for the construction of 13 501 beds,” the Minister said.

This was made possible through a partnership between the department and the Infrastructure Investment Programme for South Africa, the Development Bank of South Africa and National Treasury.

Minister Nzimande said all these efforts support the national aim of increasing higher education enrolments in public and private institutions to 1.62 million by 2030.

This includes increasing youth and adult participation opportunities in the Community Education and Training (CET) college system to one million students by 2030.

“To achieve these goals, we aim to increase online education, including offerings of university and college courses through after-hour programmes,” the Minister said.

He said it is the department’s vision that beyond 2030, South Africa will have no tuition fees for deserving students in all CET colleges in each of the 52 identified municipalities.

“It means education in these institutions will be free for the poor,” he said.

He added that through the National Skills Fund (NSF), the number of learners funded for skills development – based on enrolment and continuing learner enrolments as at 31 March 2019 – was 59 501.

Up until the end of the second quarter of the 2019/20 financial year, the NSF funded education and training interventions for 40 755 learners. It also provided funding to 2 515 small, micro and medium enterprises and cooperatives as at the end of September 2019.

Increasing the number of academics

Minister Nzimande said the Department of Science and Innovation has in the 2019/20 financial year invested R1.498 billion in support for students, researchers and interns, with a projected total investment of R4.6 billion over the MTEF period.

He said these funds will support 8 279 pipeline honours and master’s students, 2 538 PhD students, 4 500 researchers and 690 interns.

“The department is funding a number of initiatives that are expected to contribute to the improvement of our country’s trade balance and thereby improve the prospects of increasing economic growth through stimulating the demand side of our economy,” he said.

Among the leading projects are:

  • The launch of the Mandela Mining Precinct established to facilitate the coordination of mining research, development and innovation activities and collaboration amongst stakeholders.

  • The Grassroots Innovation Programme aimed at generating the required learnings on how best to design and deliver support to grassroots innovators.

  • Funding to build South African’s titanium industry, the fluorochemicals expansion initiative and the hydrogen fuel cell research development and innovation initiative.

  • Support to a range of large and small firms through the Technology Localisation Programme which aims to increase the turnover of small and medium enterprises, enabling them to secure better contracts with large private sector companies.

The Minister said the Department of Higher Education and Training implemented the University Capacity Development Programme (UCDP) at the beginning of 2018, which is aimed at transforming universities to improve student success, enable equitable and quality staff development opportunities and implement initiatives to reform and strengthen programmes and curriculum.

The UCDP represents an investment of approximately R1 billion annually.

The Minister said in the next five years, the Ministry will roll out a five-year research programme on labour market intelligence.

“This programme is comprised several research projects related to the identification of current and future skills needs and shortages, the identification of interventions required to address them and the exploration of ideological, philosophical and empirical approaches to understanding the relationships between education and the economy.”

In support of the President’s Thuma Mina campaign, the department aims to ensure that every district municipality will have access to a post-school training institution within the next 10 years.

Addressing GBV in tertiary institutions

To address Gender-Based Violence (GBV) within tertiary institutions, the department is finalising the policy framework on GBV in the Post-School Education and Training System, which will be published by the end of March 2020.

In 2019, a ministerial task team was established to advise the Minister on matters of sexual harassment and GBV in the public university sector. The Minister said the task team will advise him on the implementation of the policy framework, focusing on institutional policy alignment and initiatives to address GBV in universities.

He added that the department is working closely with Universities South Africa, which is a membership organisation representing the country's universities, to address urgent safety and security concerns on university campuses to ensure that students and staff are safe from all forms of violence.

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