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Universities wait on government to give direction on student measures for level 2

c157866c b131 52be 8dfb 196790ff8dd3 - Universities wait on government to give direction on student measures for level 2

Durban – Taxpayers will have to fork out more than R4 billion for the university academic year to be extended to early 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande revealed this when responding in writing to a set of parliamentary questions yesterday.

This comes as universities said they were awaiting directions from Nzimande on the return of more students to campus under level 2.

Earlier this year, the ministry said during level 2, 66% of students would be allowed to return to campus.

Breaking down the funding for the extension of the academic year, Nzimande said the amount required was R4.4bn, with R319million needed for technical vocational and education training (TVET) colleges and R4.1bn for universities.

He was responding to questions from DA MP Belinda Bozzoli, who had asked for the breakdown in the R5bn cut of funding in the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and what would not be funded by the bursary scheme.

She also enquired about the Covid- 19-related expenses that were to be covered by the reallocated funding and the smaller number of students who would be funded as a result of the budget cuts and reprioritisations.

Nzimande said NSFAS had modelled the expected increased costs arising from the extended academic year based on a full extension of allowances for the additional months.

“This is therefore the maximum amount that could be required. Should the national framework be effectively applied for university-owned and leased accommodation, keeping the original costs of accommodation for the extended academic year, then it is likely that some of these costs will be contained,” he said.

In June, Nzimande said the academic calendar for higher education institutions would not be completed this year.

NSFAS had to reprioritise and cut its budget to fund costs related to the pandemic which had added R3.8bn to university expenditure.

In his reply to Bozzoli, Nzimande said the actual budget cut was R5.5m on the administration finances, with no cut on the student-funding budget.

“The budget reduction of R5.5m will affect the compensation of employees’ budget line,” he said.

He also said there were 730000 digital devices to be purchased for NSFAS beneficiaries for the 2020 academic year.

He insisted that no funded students would be affected by the budget cut or reprioritisations.

“The R2.5bn reduction in student bursary funding arising from the R2.5bn suspension of student bursary funding for devices will be funded with R1bn from recovered funds and R1.5bn from accumulated TVET funds.”

Nzimande said all Covid-19-related budget expenses had been contained in the reprioritised budget baseline.

University of KwaZulu-Natal acting executive director for corporate relations Normah Zondo said the move to online teaching and learning required setting up virtual platforms and retraining academics and students. “Connectivity, a conducive study environment, delivery of laptops and printed material have posed a challenge.”

Regarding level 2 of lockdown and the return of students, she said the university would be guided by the Campus Readiness Task Team and the Department of Higher Education and Training.

“UKZN will also consider the specific categories eligible for lockdown level 2, and the proposed plan will be outlined.”

She said there were about 6000 students who “effectively returned to the university” during lockdown level 3.

“The academic programme, except for practical training, takes place online. Students are currently restricted to the residences but allowed access to clinics, laboratories and LANs with prior approval.”

Bheki Hlophe, spokesperson for the Mangosuthu University of Technology (MUT), said it was waiting for government directives on whether to allow more students back to campus.

He said about 10 000 students were accessing their online platforms.

“Being a historically disadvantaged institution, MUT had to wait on funds from the government to begin identified interventions. For example, we could not issue laptops to students, we had to rely on the process from NSFAS.

“In most instances the infrastructure was already in place. However, the growing use of the MUT digital platforms necessitates an upgrade. In other instances we had to consider putting up new equipment to deal with the uptake of online platforms.”

UKZN SRC president Sifiso Simelane said while online learning was taking place, it was riddled with problems.

“We’ve called on the university to intensify (emotional) support and strengthen things like counselling.”

He said working online was not suited to all students.

UCT’s Elijah Moholola said: “Following level 2 there are likely to be some amendments to the institution’s return to campus framework.

“Any amendments will be determined by guidelines from the minister. UCT has about 1400 students invited back in line with higher education department’s guidelines.

“The return to campus, however, does not mean the resumption of physical classes. Teaching and learning will continue online for the rest of the term.”

Department of Higher Education spokesperson Ishmael Mnisi said the department would give an update on level 2 directives for universities next week.

Mercury

c157866c b131 52be 8dfb 196790ff8dd3 - Universities wait on government to give direction on student measures for level 2

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