Parliament’s portfolio committee on higher education and training on Monday welcomed the announcement by the country’s minister of higher education and training, Naledi Pandor, to write-off close to a billion rand in historic student debt.
“The response by the Minister is a true testimony that round table engagement must remain the preferred option by students to resolve matters as opposed to destroying the infrastructure,” said Connie September, the committee chairperson.
South Africa has seen a spate of violent unrest at tertiary education institutions with students demanding, among other things, that debt is written off and they are allowed to continue their studies.
Almost all of the protests since the start of the academic year in February have turned violent, with infrastructure and cars torched. In KwaZulu-Natal, a student who was part of a violent protest was shot dead and staff members at campuses were assaulted, intimidated and received death threats.
The government announced over the weekend that it had made available an amount of R967 million to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) to settle historic student debt. This was over and above an introduction of a fee-free policy in 2018.
September said the committee was also satisfied with the commitment to deal with poverty alleviation, especially for the country’s indigent students.
“The need of placing a skills revolution in the country must be uppermost by government. The decision by the Minister and the Department must take the higher education sector closer to the sequencing decisions of the National Development Plan.”
She said further efforts were needed to increase effectiveness, success rates and to improve the throughput rate of students at all institutions of higher learning.
“Students must make a massive contribution towards their own capabilities in order to ensure that they improve their chances and choices in the labour market,” September said.