Cloak and dagger stuff as Buti Manamela hosts NSFAS meeting at secret Durban location

Buti-Manamela
Buti-Manamela

Deputy higher education minister Buti Manamela met with Durban University of Technology student leaders and management at a secret location on Tuesday to clarify issues regarding free higher education.

Manamela was accompanied by National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) head Steven Zwane.

Registration at DUT has been delayed by an indefinite staff strike over wage increases. The closed-door meeting was initially set to take place on campus but had to be moved to a "safe haven" because of the staff strike.

Manamela also met with unions to hear their concerns about the impasse following the meeting with students and management.

NSFAS will be granting bursaries instead of loans to undergraduate students this year in line with government’s new fee policy.

President Jacob Zuma announced on December 16 that government would be phasing in “fully subsidised free higher education and training for poor and working class South Africans”‚ over a five-year period.

According to the higher education department‚ returning students who were funded by NSFAS in 2017 or earlier will also be awarded bursaries

"This NSFAS allocation will not have to be repaid‚” it said.

However‚ the department stipulated that “past loans will not be converted to a bursary at this time”.

Those who applied to NSFAS for funding by November 30 and whose family’s gross household income threshold is R122 000 per annum would be eligible.

Zwane said after the marathon two hour meeting: "It was a tough meeting because it is not ideal to try and engage on a registration process when there is a strike at the institution.

"There seems to be a bit of misalignment between management and the students leadership on the issue of free education."

But Zwane believes they were able to find common ground on several issues around the interpretation of rules "defined as part of free education.

"The SRC should be feeling much more comfortable around the issues they wanted addressed."

This included historic student debt and who qualified for NSFAS grants.

Siphephelo Mthembu‚ SRC head‚ said they would adopt a wait and see attitude with regards to issues around free education for students.

"We have said that all students with historic debt must be allowed to register. But right now DUT is in crisis and we understand they are short staffed. We just want deserving students who qualify for free education not to be disadvantaged.”

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