The Minister of Higher Education, Science, and Innovation, Dr. Blade Nzimande, says the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the country’s ailing economy have had devastating effects on the 2020/2021 academic calendar. Nzimande says despite the challenges the department continued to support institutions of higher learning and students.

He briefed the media on his budget priorities for the 2021 financial year on Thursday.

Minister Nzimande says more than R40 billion of the department’s R111 billion annual budget, has been allocated to finance National Student Financial Aid Scheme qualifying students.

Nzimande says the COVID-19 pandemic has compelled the department to expand, among others, online learning for university students. “This year 2021/2022 financial year transfers to universities and other course is going to be R81.223 billion through our universities education branch. Of course, we will continue to support NFSAS. And this year we estimate that we are going to be spending about R43 billion.”

Nzimande says although the bulk of the money went to universities, TVET colleges remain critical as they provide much-needed skills for the country. “For this financial year, we have got a total budget of just over R13 billion for the TVET college sector. On the skills development program through our skills branch, we are going to continue to monitor our skills development plan. We have also developed and presented before cabinet in January a skills strategy to support the economic reconstruction and recovery plan.”

The department will in the current financial year finalise plans to build two new universities, in Tshwane and Ekurhuleni in Gauteng.

Nzimande explains the reasons behind this move. “We will also kick start during this financial year the process of establishing two new universities as announced by President Ramaphosa through the developed feasibility study to establish the location of these new institutions. This project is led by one of my advisers professor Dirk Swart. We are talking here of a planned university of science and innovation, to be set up the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan and the detective academy that will be built in the north of Tshwane in Hammanskraal.”

Nzimande says the department like any other sector suffered financial losses due to the pandemic. He says up to R6 billion has been lost as a result of the four-month payment holiday due to non-payment of employee skills levies.