First-time Students Should Not Have to Pay the Price

Last month, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Blade Nzimande, announced that UNISA would need to cut their first-time entry (FTEN) students by 20 000 admissions. He cited over-enrolment for the 2020 academic year and pressure on the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) as the reasons for this announcement.

This means 20 000 less opportunities for deserving students in 2021.

This is in no part due to any action by any of these FTEN students. They applied themselves to their studies during the trying circumstances created by the Covid-19 pandemic, in the hope of securing the opportunity to further their education, and, once qualified, make a contribution to society. Now, they have to pay the price, and lose the opportunity to gain tertiary qualifications, due to the actions of others.

In addition to this, a NSFAS circular has now come to the attention of the IFP Youth Brigade (IFPYB). It states that the list of funded qualifications “is currently under review in consultation with the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET).” The same circular further lists seven types of qualifications, including “BTECH qualifications” for which “FTEN students will not be funded.”

This means that those FTEN who do manage to gain entry into the tertiary education system will have limited options.

According to Annexure A of the “2020 Guidelines for the Department of Higher Education and Training Bursary Scheme for Students at Public Universities”, 25 funded BTECH Programmes are listed. These include several BTECH Engineering Programmes, as well as BTECH Nursing Programmes. As the IFPYB, we would like to know why the DHET has decided to no longer fund these programmes in 2021. This, particularly in fields where the skills are needed to ensure the future health and sustainability of the country. Nurses are the backbone of the health system, while our engineers are needed for the much-publicised public works and infrastructure programmes that the government is relying on as part of South Africa’s economic recovery plans.

Why then, would you deny FTEN students the opportunity to pursue these professions through these BTECH Programmes?

The IFPYB will be taking this matter up with the Minister and the DHET. At the very least, the DHET should conduct a survey amongst FTEN students to determine how many of them have an interest in pursuing these BTECH Programmes, as well as the other previously-funded qualifications that are currently under review.

Those that are impacted by these decisions – namely the FTEN students – have a right to state their opinions in matters such as these that directly impact their future.

Hon. M Nxumalo, MP
National Chairperson of the IFPYB, IFP Spokesperson on Higher Education, Science and Technology and Deputy Chief Whip
072 819 5153