Pretoria - Two women university vice-chancellors will be championing the fight against the scourge of gender-based violence and femicide (GBVF) within the higher education sector.
This is to ensure that the post-schooling arena provides safe learning spaces for students.
Unisa's Professor Puleng LenkaBula, as well as her Nelson Mandela University counterpart, Professor Sibongile Muthwa, were appointed this week by Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology Dr Blade Nzimande.
They will head key programmes towards addressing the challenges of GBVF.
Speaking to the media this week, Nzimande said the reason for this decision was taken in light of incidents of gender-based violence witnessed on campuses. This had resulted in female students being abused and brutally killed.
Killings of students such as Nosicelo Mtebeni, Uyinene Mrwetyana, Precious Ramabulana, Jesse Hess and many others had highlighted the vulnerability of female students to the scourge gripping the country, he said.
As a result, through higher education, a number of programmes were being implemented towards addressing the challenges of sexual and gender based violence within the post-school education and training system.
He said all the programmes were aligned to the department's policy framework to address violence in the sector.
The first multi-sectoral gender-based violence technical task team, chaired by LenkaBula will, according to the minister, ensure the effective implementation of the department's policy framework.
In addition to that, Nzimande said he had also established a ministerial task team on sexual harassment and gender-based violence in the university sector, under the leadership of Muthwa. The team was expected to submit its report for consideration.
Furthermore, he added that institutions would also be launching the “Transforming MENtalities Initiative”, a multi-stakeholder partnership within the sector, with a particular focus on mobilising men in the sector to be part of championing a world free of gender biases, stereotypes, violence and discrimination.
And despite the sector being ready for the incoming cohort, the minister stressed that the ever-growing student debt of R16.5 billion posed a threat to the future sustainability of South Africa's higher education institutions.
Each year, a student debt of R1.5bn was being accumulated by the post-schooling sector, funds which the minister said could be directed towards infrastructure development and growing the academic system.
Nzimande said it was for this reason that the sector was working hard to conclude the consultations on the Comprehensive Student Funding Model to work on clearing up this debt.
In the interim, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme had agreed with all institutions to allow all confirmed funded students to register for the 2023 academic year.
This arrangement would also apply to all students who qualified under the Historic Debt Funds and Close Out Report.
Nzimande appealed to institutions to register these students and allow administrative processes between scheme and the institutions to continue unhindered.
In outlining the state of readiness of the post-school sector at the start of the academic year, he said he was delighted that they would be able to fund all qualifying students on the department’s bursary scheme who had been admitted for funded programmes at public TVET colleges and universities.