As universities reopen, some students continue to remain unable to register. The South African Union Of Students (SAUS) sent a Letter of Demands to Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande.
Among other demands, the SAUS requested for the historic debt of students to be cleared.
Minister Nzimande responded to this by saying the Department of Higher Education and Training is currently not able to clear student debt.
"The Department of Higher Education and Training is not in a financial position to be able to support institutions to clear all student debt of fee-paying students. We are aware that there are many students whose families struggle to keep up with fee payments, and indeed many families who have also been negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic." said Nzimande in the statement.
All government departments were subject to budget cuts in 2020 and 2021, resulting in less funds for NSFAS this year. Minister Nzimande recently held a media briefing to discuss plans for the 2021 academic year.
He announced that new students will be given until the end of this week to register, as all institutions agreed to extend their registration period.
“It is important to note that NSFAS will fund eligible students when they have been registered at a public university, or TVET College.
“Students are hereby given assurance that NSFAS is aware of and takes into account that communication should be finalised before the registration windows of the various learning institutions close,” the Minister said.
Some institutions have worked out alternative arrangements to let students register, even with existing debt.
The University of the Western Cape and The University of Cape Town are among these universities.
"Student registration fee-block in respect of 2020 debt will be lifted for specified categories of students, and the university will make every effort to support students in the process of servicing their debt – with R30 million made available for this purpose." said UCT in a statement.
However, these solutions are only temporary, as the Minister has warned that institutions will need to charge for services offered in order to remain financially stable.
While the department remains unable to clear all student debts right now, Minister Nzimande said NSFAS is working to address the historic debt of qualifying students.