Mkhatshwa slams minister, NSFAS and universities for moving too slow

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Mkhatshwa slams minister, NSFAS and universities for moving too slow

From raising an eyebrow about minister Dr Blade Nzimande’s overseas trip when there’s “instability” in the higher education sector to questioning his department’s readiness to mitigate the risks that marked the start of the new academic year, former #feesmustfall activist Nompendulo Mkhatshwa was scathing in her remarks in parliament this week. The leadership of universities was also not spared a slamming for the incohesive response to accommodation caps. While the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) was criticised for not providing research to support the housing caps. Mkhatshwa – an ANC’s member of parliament and chair of the national assembly’s portfolio committee on higher education, science and innovation – made the remarks during an urgent committee meeting following a series of protests in the higher education sector. The former Wits University student representative council president was speaking during a two-day briefing in which student bodies, the department of higher education, science and innovation, and organisations representing higher education institutions were giving her committee updates on the state of universities and colleges since the start of the new academic year.

“What one expects is that, after having a state of readiness meeting in 2022, you know how to prepare,” said Mkhatshwa to the leadership of the department of higher education, science and innovation and that of public universities and colleges on Wednesday. The day before, the committee received feedback from student formations at universities and colleges on the start of the academic year. “What you would expect from all these meetings is that they should be contributing to ensuring that we have a much more successful start to the academic year 2023.” Mkhatshwa – who graduated in 2015 with a BSc in geography – was not impressed to find out only after inquiring about whether there were any apologies for the day, that Nzimande was in the US and that small business development minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams was appointed acting minister of higher education, science and innovation. “It would have been nice to hear from the minister what official business exactly is taking place in the US … because there’s a lot of instability in our sector.

“We should be brought into confidence by the leadership of this department that we are doing all that we can do to ensure that young people who are deserving can access our institutions of higher learning,” she said. Ndabeni-Abrahams said Nzimande had been delegated by the president to represent him. Nzimande tweeted on Wednesday that he met the leadership of the World Bank in Washington on March 7. Speaking of the instability of the higher education sector, the 29-year-old Mkhatshwa, said even during her committee’s oversight visits to 14 institutions, they had identified cross-cutting issues that needed to be dealt with to avert protests. The visits took place between January 24 and February 3.

“We are continuously meeting as a sector, but nothing is giving on the ground. We still have these ongoing challenges, and so it becomes a concern,” she said. “We were aware that there are issues on a national level like access to student funding that speak to the R350 000 cap in terms of the household income that then determines whether a student can be covered by NSFAS,” she said. Mkhatshwa said the committee had still not seen the report on the ministerial task team on student funding, which she said they were expecting between June and September last year. “We need that report to come to the committee.

We need to see the recommendations of that report in the hope that those recommendations speak to the need for sustainable student funding, which has been advocated for in the terms providing education for the poor.” Mkhatshwa and her committee also requested the research or data that had informed NSFAS’s accommodation caps. She slammed the universities on their response to the NSFAS cap: “Universities should not be giving us challenges in terms of the cap because as far as we know universities were consulted last year on the cap.” Mkhatshwa has also requested an update on whether NSFAS had lodged a complaint with the competition commission on possible price fixing and gouging by student accommodation providers. Follow @SundayWorldZA on Twitter and @sundayworldza on Instagram, or like our Facebook Page, Sunday World, by clicking here for the latest breaking news in South Africa.

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