Poor students can’t access universities: MP

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uct fees CAPE ARGUS An opinion piece about love and race in the University of Cape Town's (UCT) student newspaper has got some people's pulses racing, but not for the right reasons. File photo: Jason Boud

Parliament - Poor, academically deserving students continue to be excluded from universities because of their financial position, the chairman of Parliament's portfolio committee on higher education Ishmael Malale, said on Wednesday.

“The debate, it's about access, the continued elitist thinking about education in our country while we continue to fund these institutions,” Malale said, after higher education department officials briefed the committee on the enrolment process at universities and Further Education and Training (FET) colleges.

Over a quarter million students have been enrolled at FET colleges, while registration at universities was still ongoing.

Higher education director general Gwebunkundla Qonde, told MPs government had succeeded in improving access to education through increased allocations to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and the National Skills Fund.

The allocation for FET colleges in 2010 was R310 million, which increased to R1.7 billion last year. The 2013 allocation stood at just under R2bn.

Qonde said while the increases were substantial they were not enough to provide bursaries to all poor, deserving students.

“If you come to universities you actually get confronted with the same picture of huge increases that have been made available by government into the system. Are they sufficient? No. Are they substantially huge? Yes,” Qonde said.

Malale and his fellow MPs were, however, not convinced.

They said there were still too many cases of poor children who had excelled at school being excluded from higher learning institutions because they could not pay for tuition.

“The billions (of rand) which the state contributes to higher education indicates commitment to expand the system, but somebody in the system, because they've got power, they are using this power in a manner that is unsympathetic to our strategic imperatives,” said Malale.

MPs said no child who was performing well academically should be excluded from universities and FET colleges.

Qonde said the department was working hard to attend to the biggest hurdles to access, which included funding and insufficient infrastructure.

“Our infrastructure is finding it difficult to cope with demand, in as much as NSFAS is not able to cover each and every student...” - Sapa


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