Higher Education Minister Dr Blade Nzimande says his department will distribute close to 50 000 laptops to National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS)-funded students at colleges and universities, with 22 000 arriving in the country by the end of the month.

Dr Nzimande officially launched the NSFAS Digital Learning Device programme, at the South Cape College in George.

NSFAS-funded students to start getting laptops:

Dr Nzimande says the digital learning platform will aid students in online learning in the midst of the pandemic.

“Now being in the middle of the decade of the artisan also, we are today also underlying our intention of creating the 21st-century artisan who is no longer just carrying a hammer and a spanner, but in addition, today is also carrying an electronic gadget. That is something very important.”

COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on academic year

Dr Nzimande said last month that the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the country’s ailing economy, have had devastating effects on the 2020/2021 academic calendar. He said despite the challenges the department continued to support institutions of higher learning and students.

He was briefing the media on his budget priorities for the 2021 financial year.

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

Dr Nzimande said 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 courses 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.”

Dr Nzimande said 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.