DA Asks Unisa and NSFAS to Clarify Lower Student Intake

DA Shadow Minister for Higher Education, Science & Technology, Chantel King, has today announced that the political party has written to Unisa and NSFAS to further explain why the institution has reduced its 2021 student intake by 20 000.

The University of South Africa (Unisa) is the biggest university in South Africa and one of the biggest in the world. Many of its South African students depend on the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) to pay their tuition and cover other expenses related to higher education.

Recently Minister of Higher Education, Dr. Blade Nzimande, told Unisa to reduce its new entrants by 20 000. This, according to the minister, is the same number of students that the university overenrolled in 2020.

In July 2020 Nzimande launched a probe into Unisa to review many aspects of the institution, including mission drift, education quality, failure rates, and more.

Now at the start of the first semester of 2021, King and the DA have questioned this decision.

“This decision will be a major blow for first-year students who pinned their hopes on UNISA and NSFAS to kickstart their academic careers. Many of these students planned their academic year based on their initial acceptance letters from UNISA and should not be at the short end of the stick due to the university’s transgressions,” King writes in a press release.

King and the DA have written to Unisa and NSFAS asking for clarification on the following points:

  • “How did UNISA’s administration manage to enroll over and above the enrollment limit for NSFAS students?
  • Even though UNISA over-enrolled NSFAS applications above the limited capacity, how and why did NSFAS approve these students?
  • Once NSFAS has reached its maximum capacity in terms of applications, how does the institution ensure that no more applications are accepted?
  • Whether all other potential solutions have been exhausted to prevent students from being excluding them from the education system?
  • What measures have the two institutions put in place to ensure that this error does not happen again?”

Unisa has, historically, struggled to keep up with the number of students it takes on board. Its communication with students through calls and emails, for example, has been lackluster in recent years. It’s not uncommon for calls and emails to go unanswered indefinitely, or for replies to come months later.

This is a topic we broached with Unisa’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor last year in our interview leading up to the university’s first online exams. Just this week Unisa announced extended ours for its call centres and general bolstering of its Student Communication Service Centre.

Whether these changes will make an impact, or if the DA receives a meaningful reply from either institution, remains to be seen.

“This over-enrollment is clearly the result of poor planning and coordination on the part of NSFAS and UNISA and thousands of students’ academic futures now hang in the balance. They should not be punished for poor administration on the part of these institutions,” King concludes.

VIAClinton Matos
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