Bumpy road for higher education

A number of challenges have been highlighted as a cause for concern when the higher education sector took stock of its state of readiness for the start of 2024
academic year.

The release date of the matric results; the start dates of the academic year for different institutions; the closing date for applications for funding at the
National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS); student debt and accommodation shortages have been identified as some of the red flags.

Staff shortages at technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges also threaten the quality of education provided at the institutions.

These challenges were highlighted in the national assembly’s portfolio committee on higher education, science and innovation, which met this week to discuss the readiness of the sector for the start of the new academic year.

The committee heard presentations from universities represented by Universities South Africa; the South African Public Colleges Organisation representing technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges; NSFAS, the Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovations and student representative bodies South African Union of Students for university students and the South African TVET Students Association.

The release date of the matric results on January 19 is a cause for concern because institutions such the Durban University of Technology and Nelson Mandela University are starting the academic year for first-time students on January 15.

The deadline for applications for NSFAS, which closes on January 31 presents another headache for the department.

Even for universities such as the Tshwane University of Technology, Sol Plaatje University and University of KwaZulu-Natal, whose academic year start on February 5 and the University of Western Cape on February 12, the time frames are tight for prospective students.

About eight universities have reported a shortage of accommodation for the 2024 academic year.

With the introduction of a R45 000 accommodation cap by NSFAS last year, concerns about rising student debt to cover the shortfall of the difference between what some residences charge and the allowance, provides a fertile ground for protests.

About 210 000 students are expected to enrol for the first time at public universities.

Of this number 35% will study through distance learning.

NSFAS and many challenges it is encountering are a great source of nervousness in the higher education sector.

Late payment of students allowances and the slow-pace of NSFAS’s appeals processes are one of the many issues that have been identified as red flags.

Student representatives have called for the scrapping of all banking charges for students.

NSFAS funds about 80% of university students and 90% of TVET college students.

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