Public Protector intervention in higher education problems on track

The Public Protector South Africa (PPSA) today kicked-off a series of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) meetings with key role-players in the higher education sector as part of an own-initiative investigation into the state of affairs in the sector.

 The need to address problems troubling institutions of higher learning as characterized by mass protests at the beginning of each academic year triggered the investigation. 
The ADR meetings will run until Wednesday, January 19, 2022. Today, a PPSA team of investigators led by Public Protector Adv. Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Deputy Public Protector Adv. Kholeka Gcaleka met separately with representatives of the South African Union of Students (SAUS), Universities South Africa, Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) and the South African Police Service (SAPS), including the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI). Representatives of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme sat through the sessions, all of which were held virtually. 
The ADR session with SAUS centered on student accommodation, book allowances, withdrawal of NSFAS funding, violence and destruction of property during protests, and non-repayment of NSFAS money after exiting the system while the session with Universities South Africa focused on suspension of academic activities, financial exclusion and the withholding academic records. 
The DPSA was engaged on the employment of students, whose academic qualifications are withheld on account of outstanding tuition, in the public service. The SAPS, including the DPCI, on the other hand, were engaged on issues of safety and security around campuses. 
On Wednesday, the PPSA team will meet and engage representatives of the NSFAS, Presidency, the Department of Higher Education, Innovation and Technology (DHEIT) and the Ministerial Task Team on the NSFAS. 
The engagements will focus on student funding and related matters; possible solutions and support on funding issues; funding model for higher education and changes or improvements the review of the funding model will bring; and improvements that can be expected following the Ministerial Task Team Review over NSFAS, respectively. 
The meetings follow last year’s initial round of interactions with the stakeholders such as the NSFAS, SAUS, the DHEIT, to mention but a few. 
There were also countrywide fact-finding visits to and engagements with a sample of universities and TVET colleges. The first round of engagements led to the determination of issues for investigation.
Information request letters were subsequently written to the various stakeholders, all of whom have since responded. From the responses, issues for resolution by way of ADR mechanisms were identified, leading to this week’s meetings. 
Governance-related issues are being dealt with by way of a full-on investigations while suspected criminal and human rights-related matters have been referred to the competent accountability bodies. 
“As we said last year when we commenced this intervention, our aim is to find lasting solutions to the challenges that continue to plague the higher education sector. 
In particular, we want to ensure that students are in lecture halls at the beginning of each academic year rather that swarm the streets in protest for access to tertiary education. 
We hope our effort will mark a turning point in this regard,” said Adv. Mkhwebane. 


Published Date: 
Wednesday, January 19, 2022