The Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology yesterday received a briefing from the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, on saving the 2020 academic year.
The committee also received presentations from Universities South Africa (USAF) - an organisation representing the country's university vice-chancellors - and the South African Union of Students, a union representing the country's universities' Student Representative Councils (SRCs).
In April 2020, Minister Nzimande announced that the government will be providing all NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme) qualifying students with laptops to assist students to participate in remote learning and teaching methodologies as part of the department's response to the lockdown imposed by the President due to the outbreak of Covid-19. It is now six months since the announcement was made and university and TVET NSFAS students remain without the laptops.
The committee was informed by the Minister that according to the information received from the Administrator of NSFAS, the procurement process to acquire these laptops will be concluded before the end of October 2020.
The committee was further informed by the department that universities have initiated their own procurement of laptops for their students and staff to the extent that 68% of the entire student population at universities have been provided with access to laptops.
The department further informed the committee that all current TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) colleges students will not be provided with laptops for the 2020 academic year because the majority of the students are about to finish their 2020 academic year, and therefore it will not serve any purpose to provide them with laptops as they will be exiting the system.
"Given the above scenario, it is quite clear for the committee that the original purpose for which the announcement was made by the Minister, that of supplying NSFAS students with laptops to facilitate remote learning in order to save the 2020 academic year, no longer exists. The question therefore that arises is: why is NSFAS proceeding with the acquisition of these laptops where only 32% of the universities' student population requires this intervention and no student in TVETS will be supplied during the current academic year?" remarked Mr Philly Mapulane, the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology.
From the observation of the committee, it is quite clear that the unnecessary and unacceptable delays in procuring the laptops for needy situation, has led to a situation where it is no longer necessary for NSFAS to proceed with these procurement processes as originally envisaged.
Therefore, it is the committee's view that because of the less student population involved, that is, only 32%, that affected universities should be requested to urgently handle the procurement of laptops for their qualifying students and discontinue the current process at NSFAS, which has been embroiled in allegations of wrongdoing.
The committee further noted that it will be convening a follow-up meeting on Friday, 30 October 2020, with the Administrator of NSFAS, Dr Randall Carolissen, and Nehawu (National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union) to finalise discussions regarding all allegations brought to the committee's attention by Nehawu.