It is well known by now that the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) aims to see out the 2020 academic school year regardless of what impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had to date, even choosing to finish in early 2021 if necessary. Naturally this puts added stress on students, particularly those concerned about their current tuition and accommodation status.

In order to address some of those concerns, Higher Education Minister, Dr. Blade Nzimande, and his department have outlined a national framework as it pertains to tuition and accommodation for the 2020 academic year.

To that end, he explains that the 2020 academic year should not be thought of in terms of fixed dates, but rather an entire package.

New directives

This follows gazetted regulations government made in June, which allowed for, a framework for temporary payment and cash flow measures, or steps necessary to alleviate, contain and minimise 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),” noted Nzimande.

The minister added that directives are aimed at assisting those involved with NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme), private fee-paying individuals and private accommodation providers.

More specifically, tuition fees for example will need to look at the 2020 academic year as a whole, regardless of its length. As such, NSFAS tuition fees to institutions can only be made on the basis of the originally agreed tuition fees.

In terms of accommodation, the department says that the cost for university-owned accommodation remains the same for the academic year, regardless of its length, with it being capped to the end of March 2021.

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

For accommodation which is leased by the university, there is a slight difference, however, with the DHET noting that, “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.”

The minister also adds 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.”

That said, we doubt that such a reduction in monthly payments will likely take place.

Nzimande has advocated that institutions should look to facilitate agreements wherever possible, particular when it comes to NSFAS students, with most yet to be allocated the necessary funding for academic years past 2020.

“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,” he concluded.

If you are a student making use of accommodation from your tertiary institution or leased by it, it is important to reach out to your representative to get clarity on what happens post-2020.

[Image – Wits]