With tertiary institutions soon to welcome their first-year students, the Economic Freedom Fighters’ Student Command is standing by its mantra of no higher education fees — and going to court to support this principle.
The Student Command has brought an urgent motion against the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology Blade Nzimande and Unisa in the high court in Pretoria. The Student Command wants the higher education minister’s decision to direct Unisa to reduce its 2021 first-time students intake by 20 000 to be declared unlawful and invalid.
On 28 December Nzimande issued two directives to Unisa: to reduce its first-time student intake and to reschedule the opening of 2021 classes.
The first directive instructed Unisa to “reduce its 2021 first time entering students by 20 000 in 2021 to accommodate the over-enrollment in 2020, and the impact this will have on NSFAS [National Student Financial Aid Scheme] over the next few years until those students complete their qualifications”.
The minister ascribed this to “current fiscal constraints and the impact that over-enrollment has on the whole sector”.
In 2018, Unisa was warned to adhere to its enrollment planning targets of first-time entering students or face a penalty. It failed to comply with the minister’s calls and was penalised in the 2020-21 financial year for this over-enrollment. Preliminary data presents a 35% over-enrollment in 2020, translating to more than 20 000 students.
The minister noted in its directive that this over-enrollment “will have a significant impact on the sustainability of NSFAS and the higher-education sector as a whole”.
Furthermore, the minister also pointed out that Unisa’s intention to begin the academic year for first-time students early in January “is totally out of sync”, given the backdrop of Covid-19 disruptions. This year, higher education institutions are beginning the academic year only in March or April. Unisa agreed to both directives in early January.
This resulted in Unisa accepting only 37 857 students in 2021, instead of its planned first-time student intake of 57 857. In a statement issued on 6 January, Unisa noted that: “This resolution is meant to ensure (1) financial sustainability of the university and the sector, and (2) to enable the university’s [sic] to effectively support the students.”
Against this backdrop, the EFF Student Command more than a month later handed in a court motion to rule the reduction of first-time student intake for 2021 by 20 000 as unlawful and invalid.
Tommy Huma, senior media officer at Unisa, says management has yet to respond to the EFF Student Command’s court motion.
Meanwhile, the EFF has reiterated its policy on free higher education in a recent statement, calling “for the freezing of all debt owed to institutions of higher learning and for all registration fees to be waived for the year 2021”.