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Transforming Society

Securing Rights

Restoring Dignity

Media Statement: Meeting with the Minister of Higher Education, Innovation and Technology and the National Student Financial Aid Fund

Attention: Editors and Reporters

17 March 2021

On 16 March 2021, the South African Human Rights Commission (Commission), together with the Office of the Public Protector (PP), met with the Minister of Higher Education, Innovation and Technology, Dr Blade Nzimande. The meeting was convened to discuss and chart a way forward with respect to existing challenges in higher education and the funding thereof.
The PP and the Commission received numerous complaints relating to higher education including the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). Although both Chapter 9 Institutions had met with NSFAS earlier in the week to discuss complaints about its efficiency, effectiveness and communication with students and prospective students, it was important to address systemic challenges in the education sector and funding issues with the Minister of Higher Education.

The Commission used the occasion to engage the Ministry of Higher Education on retracing and implementing the Commission’s findings and recommendation in its 2016 report titled: Transformation at Universities. This report highlights numerous systemic challenges at Universities that remain prevalent, including concerns over funding at institutions of higher learning. The Commission also raised concerns about the protests at various universities in the country on account of funding; the conduct of police in dealing with protesting students; and the rule of law with the aim to find out what the Department is doing about these issues.

Minister Nzimande was receptive to the interventions by the Commission and the PP, and stressed that the Department of Higher Education, innovation and Technology (Department) is committed to cooperating with Chapter 9 institutions. The Minister explained that the shortfall in funding NSFAS applicants and current students was as a result of the extended academic year and the fact that NSFAS continued to fund students during the early days of the national lockdown (levels 5; 4; and 3) in response to Covid-19.  

The Minister further outlined that cabinet had approved a further R6.3 billion to support higher education and that NSFAS will be able to cater for the needs of students in need of financial assistance. The Minister was concerned that pressure is being exerted on government to solve all the challenges in higher education alone, whilst the private sector is the biggest beneficiary of resources cultivated by government and NSFAS – a sentiment shared by the Commission.

The Commission welcomed the presentation and interventions proposed by the Minister and the Department. The Commission will continue to engage with the Minister and the Department on a number of issues, including:
•    Feedback on the meeting with Vice-Chancellors this morning on resolving the impasse at various universities across the country, including student demands to scrap historic debt and to register all students.
•    The comprehensive funding model the Minister has to present to Cabinet by June.
•    The report from the Ministerial Task Team on the feasibility of NSFAS, its efficiency and accessibility.
•    Legislation on the establishment of an Ombudsman for Higher Education.
•    The duty of the Department in terms of s184 of the Constitution to report annually to the Commission on the progressive realisation of the right to further education.
•    The need for a developing country like South Africa to shift the over-emphasis on tertiary education to vocational education and training.
Our engagements with both the Minister and NSFAS will take place on a regular basis.

The Commission is invested in ensuring that there is a way forward and that challenges in the higher education sector, including on funding, are mitigated. We will continue with our visitation of various campuses to engage stakeholders, together with the office of the PP.  The Commission will continue to work with the PP and the Department of Higher Education to ensure the progressive realisation of the right to further education.


Issued by the South African Human Rights Commission

Gushwell Brooks – Communications Co-ordinator Tel: 082 645 8573 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The South African Human Rights Commission.

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The Human Rights Commission is the national institution established to support constitutional democracy. It is committed to promote respect for, observance of and protection of human rights for everyone without fear or favour.

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