Higher Education Minister Nzimande is briefing the country on his department’s plans to deal with the sector during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
He said the allegations made by the DA had been exposed as false and NSFAS Administrator, Dr. Randall Carollisen, clearly stated that the R1.96bn referred to by Prof Bozzoli is actually irregular expenditure that arose when the previous board applied unspent historic debt from 2016 and 2017 to fund NSFAS qualifying students in 2018.
Nzimande said the money was flagged as irregular expenditure by the Auditor General, despite being a “legitimate diversion of funds”, because due processes were not followed in getting approval for the move from National Treasury.
“This was not a loss to the fiscus but will simply be an adjustment of a book entry with no release of funds or incurrence of any liability. NSFAS is in the process of clearing all irregular expenditure and the AG advised that NSFAS should clear this irregularity as ‘writing off historic debt’,” he said.
Watch the stream below, courtesy of SABC News.
Returning to campuses:
Under level 4, which (Started 1 May 2020), we allowed for the controlled return of final year students in programmes requiring clinical training, starting with medicine (MBChB) and the phasing-in of all other programmes, such as Nursing, Dental, Veterinary Sciences, and so on.
Under level 3 a maximum of 33% of students will be allowed to return to campuses, “on condition that they can be safely accommodated and supported in line with the health and safety protocols as directed by the Department,” Nzimande said.
This will include the following cohorts:
1. All groups that have already returned during alert level 4.
2. Students in the final year of their programmes, who are on a path to graduating in 2020 may return.
3. Final year students who require access to laboratories, technical equipment, data, connectivity and access to residence and private accommodation should return.
4. Students in all years of study that require clinical training in their programmes (provided that the clinical training platforms have sufficient space and can accommodate them while adhering to the safety protocols).
5. Post Graduate students who require laboratory equipment and other technical equipment to undertake their studies.
Special provision may be made for selected return of students “who may face extreme difficulties in their home learning environments provided that the above categories are prioritized, and all safety and logistical requirements are met.
He said all other students will be supported through remote teaching and assessment methods until it is safe to return to campus.
“I would like to emphasise that we recognise that some institutions may identify other groups of students in line with their particular contexts for their return to campus. However, any deviation from this criterion must be approved by my Department and must fall within the maximum of 33% of the student population.”
All institutions must follow the national guidelines regarding the numbers that can be accommodated in residences, “to enable physical distancing, the handling of communal spaces, hygiene requirements and dining hall arrangements.”
A maximum of 33% of students are allowed to return to residences, and those living in private accommodation may also return if the proper physical distancing arrangements are in place.
Revised TVET academic calendar:
TVET Colleges tentative academic calendar for the level 3 lockdown alert provides for the following:
NATED Trimester (ENGINEERING) students
N6 & N3: 10 June
N5 & N2: 15 June
N4 & N1: 22 June
NATED Semester (BUSINESS STUDIES) students
N6: 25 June
N5: 29 June
N4: 06 July
Level 4: 13 July
Level 3: 20 July
Level 2: 27 July
Zero-rating of educational content and electronic devices:
Nzimande announced that after negotiations with Treasury, the procurement of electronic devices such as laptops, will commence through an open tender system by the end of this week.
“We have agreed with National Treasury that given the huge amounts involved in the central acquisition of outstanding tablets, it is better to follow proper procedures than take short cuts, even if there is some delay, so as to properly account for spending of taxpayers money. We are also finalizing the process of verifying which NSFAS students already have acquired devices, in order to avoid mistakenly issuing some students with more than one device per student.”
The minister announced that his department has successfully negotiated favourable rates with all mobile network for NSFAS students and Funza Lushaka students to receive 10GB daytime and 20GB night-time data for three (3) months, starting from 1 June till end of August.
He claims that zero-rating of Departmental and public institutions’ websites is 86% completed. This means that access to all these sites will be free, with only embedded content such as Youtube videos being charged for. Five hundred and eighty-six sites are included in this, and the full list of sites that have been 0-rated has been published on the individual institutional and Departmental websites.
There will be a hybrid approach combining zero-rating and “educational data bundles”, with government having negotiated a flat rate of R65 for 10 GB Anytime and 20GB Night Time data for 3 months, which will be subsidized and provided for free for NSFAS students until the end of August.
NSFAS funding and N+1 and N+2 rules
Nzimande says following a meeting with student bodies in January, among the issues that his department had agreed to as being critical for further discussion included the student funding policy that provides for the N+1 and N+2 years of funding to students.
He says NSFAS is guided by the Department of Higher Education funding policy in respect of all qualifying students, before approving funding, thuse there are no plans to change the stipulated number of years within which NSFAS beneficiaries are expected to finish their studies.
He says that while “the N+2 rule for NSFAS students registered prior to 2018 has always been in place, its application has been erratic, due to data gaps, inadequacies and constraints between NSFAS and institutions.”
This has led to students being unfunded as a direct consequence of the rule. Investigations into this found that there are cases “where the application of the rule may have been applied inappropriately or in an unjust manner.”
” This we found in the following three areas:
1. Students who may have de-registered in the first semester for prior years of study for financial or other reasons, yet the academic year is counted as time spent in the system;
2. Students whose academic progression has been affected by medical or psycho-social challenges, and where evidence supported by medical certificates and other evidence has been provided as part of the appeals process;
3. Students who have exceeded the N+2 rule based on time in the system, but who are currently in their final year of study and will graduate in 2020.”
He says NSFAS will look at the above three categories of students in considering the approximately 9000 continuing student appeals which relate to the application of the N+2 rule.
Checking yourself daily:
Students returning to universities across the country will be expected to make use of the Higher Health department’s app HealthCheck, which will allow them to have their body temperature checked, and will link their data to the tracking system of the Department of Health.
Nzimande says, “All students and staff – approximately two million people – will be required to register for HealthCheck and use it every day to assess their own level of risk prior to entering campuses.
“Based on the answers entered on the platform, the person receives a message with the low/moderate/high level risk reading. If the risk is low, the individual will receive clearance valid for 24 hours.”
The department believes the tool will allow for “early detection, mapping and management of COVID-19 cases within higher education institutions and feeds into the national Department of Health tracking and tracing system.”
Beside continuing to deal with mental health and wellness, Nzimande says Higher Health’s focus will now shift to “shining the Higher Health spotlight on private higher education institutions and community education and training colleges. We want to ensure all students and campus staff have the tools and information necessary to deal with coronavirus.”