Save 2016 academic programme, urges Cabinet

Cabinet had reiterated the call for the country to support all efforts made to save the 2016 academic programme.

Minister in the Presidency responsible for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Jeff Radebe warned that if the academic year is lost and the universities and colleges do not reach a finality this year, almost a million matriculants will not be admitted into higher education.

The ripple effect is such that all students from first year to final year would be affected and ultimately the economy as no new skilled graduates will enter the job market.

Consequently, those who would have graduated as medical doctors, engineers, accountants, teachers and various other professions, will no longer be in a position to enter the economy, said Minister Radebe.

He was briefing media in Pretoria on the outcomes of the Cabinet meeting yesterday.

The Minister said efforts led by government through the Ministerial Task Team, working with students, parents, universities and stakeholders, are a demonstration of government’s collective commitment to find solutions to normalise the higher education sector.

President Jacob Zuma on 11 October established the Ministerial Task Team to assist the Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande to normalise the situation at higher education institutions across South Africa, working with all stakeholders.

President Zuma has broadened the composition of the Ministerial Task Team with the inclusion of Ministers of Communications, Human Settlements, Finance and Social Development.

Minister Radebe said government has received several proposals that have been put forward by various constituencies and stakeholders.

A technical process is underway to evaluate them and once work is completed, options will be provided to address the current challenges.

Government will further take steps to make resources available to all National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) qualifying students progressively to cover the full costs of study at universities and Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges over the long term.

Government will also develop mechanisms to address the challenges faced by ‘missing middle’ students, who don’t qualify under current NSFAS rules but are unable to afford the full cost of study without some form of assistance.

All of these will be phased at a pace and scale that depends on the rate of growth in enrolment and available resources, Minister Radebe explained.

The Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training is continuing with its work and will assist government to come up with a long term solution for access to higher education particularly for the poor.

In the 2016/17 financial year, government has allocated a tremendous amount of resources to higher education, which saw the Department of Higher Education and Training receiving a budget allocation of R49.2 billion.

Cabinet believes that it is only through our investment in education as a country that we will make meaningful progress in addressing the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality, said Minister Radebe.

Government has responded to the pleas of students and will subsidise the 2017 fee adjustment of up to 8%, to pay the fee increase through a gap-funding grant on behalf of all poor, working class and so called missing middle students – students with a family household income of up to R600 000 per annum.

Both NSFAS-qualifying students and missing middle students will experience a no fee increase, as government will pay the percentage fees adjustment.

This subsidy will amount to about R2.5 billion, which covers over 70% of all undergraduate students, the Minister said.

He encouraged all stakeholders to immediately work towards creating conditions and a conducive climate for the academic programme to resume without delay.

Government will develop a roadmap, working with relevant stakeholders, for the transformation of universities and TVET colleges to create opportunities for access, success, financing and support for students and institutions.

Several stakeholders including, among others, students, banks and business have presented different proposals on how we can finance higher education particularly for the poor.

Therefore, [the] Ministerial Task Team will bring all stakeholders under one roof to develop a roadmap that will pave the way for a solution, Minister Radebe said. �

Source: South African Government News Agency