Thursday, 11 March 2021

Cape Town: As Wits University continued to protest over the lack of funding for first year students, Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, has told Parliament that Cabinet has taken a decision on the matter.

Responding to follow-up questions when Minister in the Social Services cluster appeared for oral questions before the National Assembly, the Minister said Cabinet was expected to announce its decision this morning [Thursday] before he briefs media to further expand on the decision.

“The first year students, the matter has been put before Cabinet and Cabinet has taken a decision today as to what will happen.

“Unfortunately, I am not at liberty to communicate cabinet decisions. Cabinet I am told is going to be communicating its decision sometime tomorrow morning as to what will happen.

“Myself after Cabinet has communicated, I will also have a briefing with the public in order to give more details and information but as Minister of Finance said, what is guiding us is that no deserving student who qualifies must actually be left out, and that’s the policy of government. Especially the children of the poor and working class,” he said.

He said this after a 35-year-old man, who was reported to be coming out of a clinic, was allegedly shot dead when police opened fire at protesting students in Braamfontein on Wednesday.

Nzimande has since sent his condolences to the man’s family and friends.

“I have also expressed my condolences on the member of the public who died this morning. The matter is being investigated on whether that person was shot or not and what were the reasons for the death.”

This comes after Wits students embarked on a protest against financial exclusion, which has halted registration at the institution.

On Monday, the Minister announced that because of fiscal pressures related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has not yet been able to confirm funding eligibility for first-time entering students wishing to study in public universities in 2021.

He said this was because NSFAS was facing a shortfall on its funding for 2021.

“We have eliminated a lot of uncertainty in relation to NSFAS students right now. On Monday, I announced that despite the fiscal challenge that we are having, all NSFAS continuing students who have met the criteria for progression will be supported, all of them. In other words, those who are already in the system in universities and TVET colleges, they must be registered and NSFAS is going to pay for them.

“The challenge was with the number of new students we can be able to take as a result of the fact that we have more demands than the resources that are in the hands of government.

“For a number of reasons, while it has been the budget cuts unfortunately that started before COVID-19, but COVID-19 also contributed to that because we have had to extend the academic year without additional money.”