Higher Education cushions 2020 academic year

In an effort to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the 2020 academic year, Higher Education Minister, Dr. Blade Nzimande, has published a national framework to ensure that the cost for tuition and accommodation will remain the same for the 2020 academic year, regardless of its length at the different institutions.

In the Government Gazette published in June, the Higher Education and Training Department prescribes a framework for temporary payment and cash flow measures, or steps necessary to alleviate, contain and minimize the effects of the COVID-19 threat to the public higher education sector.

“The framework will also provide directives to officials of public higher education institutions to disseminate information and all applicable measures for the implementation [of the framework],” said Nzimande.

The Minister said the directives will assist to alleviate the financial strain on institutions, NSFAS [National Student Financial Aid Scheme], private fee-paying individuals, and private accommodation providers, recognizing that the COVID-19 pandemic affects all groups in different ways.

Higher learning institutions were forced to close with the introduction of the lockdown, which affected the set timetable. The academic program of the institutions, therefore, will extend beyond this calendar year.

Tuition fees

In terms of the directives on tuition fees, the 2020 academic year is conceptualized as a “package”, regardless of its length.

NSFAS payment for tuition fees to institutions will be made on the basis of the originally agreed tuition fees.

Accommodation fees

The cost for university-owned accommodation remains the same for the academic year, regardless of its length, capped to the end of March 2021. This assumes that while there will be periods of non-occupation, most students will return for a period of time to complete the academic year.

NSFAS payments for university-owned accommodation will also remain at the same original level, as with tuition fees.

The cost for university-leased accommodation remains at the same level for the 2020 academic year, regardless of its length, subject to an agreement that the original fee would be paid for both the 2020 and the 2021 academic years, with an agreed inflation-linked increase for 2021.

“This means that wherever possible, the costs of both academic years would be conceptualized as a package and payments spread out over the full period,” Nzimande explained.

He said that where there are periods of non-occupation of accommodation, monthly payments can be reduced, based on a payment regime that spreads out the agreed costs over the extended 2020 academic year.

In relation to individually-based private accommodation, where students make payments themselves, the above principle will apply in respect of university accredited and registered private accommodation, as far as possible.

Nzimande said NSFAS allowances have continued to be paid to students during the lockdown period and therefore, NSFAS students are expected to continue to pay private accommodation providers in terms of their original lease agreement.

However, wherever possible, institutions should facilitate agreements with providers on behalf of students to reduce the payments for periods of non-occupation, but with the full payment spread over the extended academic year.

“It must be noted that there is currently a process underway to model and plan for any additional academic year costs for NSFAS funded students.

“Currently no funding has been allocated or approved for additional academic year costs in 2020,” said the Minister. – SAnews.gov.za

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