Minister of Higher Education Science and Innovation, Blade Nzimande addressed the media on plans for the reopening of tertiary institutions amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The announcement was made on Friday that Minister Nzimande would hold a media briefing outlining the cabinet’s decision for the reopening of tertiary institutions today.
The address was formulated and followed numerous addresses by President Ramaphosa on the impact of Covid-19 on our communities and their livelihoods.
Nzimande said, “This epidemic has dominated our minds and hearts in the year 2020 and seems will do the same this year.”
Much of Nzimande’s speech was focused on Covid-19 and the vaccine. Many students watching the briefing took to social media to ask questions they felt weren’t answered. The hashtags #NSFAS and #BladeNzimande were trending in South Africa on Twitter today.
However, Nzimande did have a warning for prospective students: “Students who have applied to a university should be aware that they are given a specific time to respond and accept a space before space is offered to another student.”
Nzimande mentioned that the pandemic forced his department to allocate resources differently, both human and financial. Here are the highlights:
NSFAS recorded over 750 000 applications for the 2021 academic year. A marked increase from the 185 000 applications received in 2020. The minister used this as a marker to indicate that there is a high level of demand for funding support and access to higher education and training opportunities.
NSFAS has this year partnered with SARS for a further layer of eligibility checking.
“While NSFAS utilised third party sources for financial eligibility verification in 2020, now NSFAS has also entered into a partnership with SARS to provide a further layer of eligibility-checking. This partnership with SARS is meant to accurately assess declared household income from SARS and compare with information that students are using to apply for NSFAS bursaries, as a further control to ensure that only deserving students are funded.”
Due to the high numbers of applications received for NSFAS, funding late applications will not be accepted in 2021.
The Laptop Project
Five bidders were awarded the tender to fulfil the provision of the laptops.
The Department highlighted that it is important to note that university students will use their learning materials allowance to buy the laptops, which they will own and will be used for the duration of their studies. Each institution will develop a policy through which this will be implemented in line with NSFAS guidelines.
“It is anticipated that NSFAS will be able to start rolling out the first batch of devices for delivery when the 2021 academic program resumes in March.”
The PSET in collaboration with the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies, will soon resume negotiations with Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), for a long-term solution to the provision of data for students within the PSET system.
The minister stated that the goal is to find a sustainable long-term strategy that ensures that the PSET sector does not revert back to pre-COVID status in relation to access to online resources by students and lecturers.
- Completion of the 2020 Academic Year
Significant efforts have been made across all institutions to ensure that a fair opportunity has been provided to all students to complete the 2020 academic year. This has included an inevitable extended period into the 2021 calendar year for the majority of institutions.
The Department of Higher Education and Training has provided support to institutions through the re-prioritisation of funds into a COVID Responsiveness Grant.
“I am confident that with the support of all stakeholders we should successfully complete the academic year by the end of February for the vast majority of institutions and by March for all institutions,” Nzimande stated.
- The enrolment planning and management of 2021 process
The department reported that all institutions have aligned the start of the 2021 Academic Year for first-time entries with the availability of Department of Basic Education National Senior Certificate (NSC) examination results.
The department will work closely with institutions to prepare the system for the opening between early-March and mid-April this year.