New minister of Higher Education brings hope for change

Published Jul 2, 2024


President Cyril Ramaphosa recently announced the new cabinet, marking a significant shift in leadership within South Africa’s education sector.

Dr Nobuhle Nkabane, formerly the deputy minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, has been appointed the new minister of Higher Education.

Nkabane replaces Blade Nzimande, who served as Higher Education minister from 2019 to 2024.

Nkabane has an academic background with experience as a tutor at UNISA, which should stand her in good stead in dealing with student challenges ranging from financial to academic stress.

Throughout Nzimande’s tenure, issues like increasing tuition fees, outstanding student debt, and disruptions in the distribution of financial assistance have affected students.

Students and academics alike have high expectations of Nkabane as she takes on her new position, with hopes for significant reforms that will tackle long-standing issues and create a more fair and encouraging higher education environment in South Africa.

Zinhle Mhlanga, a student at the University of Pretoria, articulated these hopes, saying, “With Minister Nkabane now in charge, there are several key changes and improvements that students might hope for – affordable tuition fees, improved financial aid, and focus on inclusivity.”

Sylvia Boroko, a student from Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), said she was concerned about the financial burden on students, particularly those reliant on the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

“I hope the issue of fees will change since this affects many students especially those who are strictly depending on NSFAS,” Boroko said.

Mapitsi Rosina Moeng, studying at the University of Limpopo, highlighted the recurring problem of delayed payments and outstanding allowances, particularly affecting students’ ability to focus on their studies during crucial periods like the first semester.

Reflecting on the challenges faced by students last year (2023), particularly with the introduction of new payment methods by NSFAS, Tshepo Malinga from TUT expressed hope for improved systems under Minister Nkabane’s leadership.

“I hope the new minister will improve funding for NSFAS students, especially those in postgraduate programmes, by introducing a more supportive system that benefits them,” he said.

Palesa Legodi, a former student of Wits University, said that outstanding NSFAS fees should be promptly settled to allow students to complete their studies and find employment opportunities.

Students rely on “timely payment of meal and accommodation fees to prevent them from facing hunger or homelessness”, Legodi said.

Universities like the University of Johannesburg (UJ) have extended their congratulations to Nkabane and Nzimande. UJ Vice-Chancellor Professor Letlhokwa George Mpedi was optimistic about collaborating with the new leadership to advance higher education and innovation.