The Department of Higher Education and Training is coming to the rescue of approximately 25 000 students from universities who have finished studies however are not in a position to graduate and obtain work for the reason that they have not yet finished paying student loans.
Briefing the media prior to his Budget Vote in Parliament today, the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande, talked about how his department is going to set aside roughly R200 million to assist students who had obtained loans and had since graduated, but still owed monies to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).
All those who qualify to graduate between 2000 and 2010, and furthermore eligible for NSFAS loans can apply for this particular special funding with the aid of their respective student financial-aid offices, he explained.
Nzimande, who also made several other announcements on the NSFAS, said the new measure would apply to students that registered for loans from April 1.
These included a doubling of disbursements under the fund – from R2.7 billion in the 2010/11 financial year to R5.4 billion this financial year – and placing a limit on interest charged on student loans, so that students no longer have to pay the interest on their loans until 12 months after their graduation.
At present, interest charged on loans kicks in the moment you sign for a loan, unlike in Brazil and Canada, where interest payments on student loans only become payable after a student graduates.
Added to this, R50 million has been provided for post-graduate students who require financial assistance to complete their degrees.
These students will enter into loan agreements with the NSFAS and the money they pay back would be earmarked to fund post-graduate students, Nzimande, said.
But Nzimande hastened to add that this wasn’t a license for other students to not pay back their NSFAS loans.
He said the department would approach SARS to assist in tracing and forcing those NSFAS loan beneficiaries, who are now working but are not paying back loans, to pay back their loans.
The department is also looking to increase the number of university accommodation available to students.
Currently only 18.5 percent of students stay in university accommodation and the department had set aside R686 million for the years between 2010 and 2012, to build and refurbish student residences, he said.
Nzimande said preliminary reports were being studied by the department on setting up universities in the Northern Cape and Mpumalanga, while work is also under way to increase the number of universities that offer courses for teachers that want to teach in African languages.
The department was also busy overhauling Further Education and Training (FET) colleges and department officials had already visited all 50 FET colleges to assess how to give hands-on support.
The minister said the career advice services programme, run by the South African Qualifications Authority (Saqa), was launched in January this year and a website was now up and running – www.careerhelp.org.za, as well as a Facebook group – www.facebook.com/careerhelp.
The department is partnering with the SABC, which is running 30-minute career guidance slots on nine radio stations, reaching about 2.3 million listeners per week.
The programme is broadcast in nine African languages and Nzimande said the department intended expanding the radio programme to Afrikaans as well.
Turning to the transformation of the Skills Education and Training Authorities (Setas), Nzimande said the department was strengthening Seta governance and had reduced the number of Setas from 23 to 21.
He said the department is tackling underspending at Setas and has told boards to reduce the trend.
Setas would be reconfigured to spend more on long-term workplace-orientated training.
The department would also be setting up a task team to analyse where Setas spend money and how much use Setas make of public learning bodies, rather than just private consultants.
Commenting about media reports on the appointment of ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe’s wife Nolwande as a member of the new Services Seta’s board, Nzimande said Mrs Mantashe is a human-resource expert and should be seen on her own merits as a professional, rather than be judged on who she is married to.
Nzimande said the Green Paper on Higher Education would be released later this year.
The appointment of a new director general is in process and the department would begin interviewing candidates soon, he said.