Nzimande 'anxious' to see shutdown of higher education institutions called off

The minister said that the 2021 academic year was already shorter than usual, having started later, due to lockdown delaying the conclusion of the 2020 academic year.

Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Blade Nzimande addresses members of the media in Pretoria on 8 March 2021 on funding discussions for prospective students for the 2021 academic year. Picture: GCIS

CAPE TOWN - Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande wants the national shutdown of higher education institutions called off as soon as possible.

Students at a number of universities have been protesting in response to the call by the South African Union of Students (SAUS), which has accused the government of failing to meet its demands, including writing off billions in student debt that has accumulated over the years.

The minister said that the 2021 academic year was already shorter than usual, having started later, due to lockdown delaying the conclusion of the 2020 academic year.

"I must say we are quite anxious. The shutdown must be called off as soon as possible because we are worried that the academic year is already short and lest make use of all the opportunities that we have, all sides, that's what I've been adding as minister."

He was hoping that a meeting between the SAUS and vice-chancellors this week would bear fruit.

Nzimande said that he and his department would meet with SAUS later this week, after that meeting.

"I'm glad that some universities have settled, like UWC and a few others and that Wits is also close to settling because the sooner we start with the academic year the better, also because we are faced with the prospects of a third wave, which may delay us even further.”

Nzimande said that the government had honoured its side of the deal when it comes to providing fee-free higher education to poor and working-class students and would like SAUS to acknowledge that.

The Higher Education minister said that the issue now was students who did not qualify for NSFAS and who could not afford fees – the so-called missing middle.

He said that his department was collecting information on students’ historic debt and that Cabinet had given him a June deadline to come up with firm proposals on higher-education funding.

TIMELINE: University students demand an end to financial exclusion

Download the Eyewitness News app to your iOS or Android device.