Higher education and training minister Naledi Pandor. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/SIMPHIWE NKWALI
Higher education and training minister Naledi Pandor. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/SIMPHIWE NKWALI

Higher education and training minister Naledi Pandor has called on students to resist calls to shut down universities, saying such moves would have far-reaching repercussions.

“It will severely affect the academic year, resulting in many not being able to finish their degrees on time, if ever,” the minister said in a statement issued on Monday evening.

“I urge all student organisations to focus on real student concerns and to make every effort to resolve problems without impacting on the academic programme,” she said.

She expressed concern at the disruption and closure of higher education institutions, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal was closed on Monday, and its academic programme suspended, after violent protests on two of its Durban campuses. There have also been protests at Unisa and Wits. Students have been protesting about accommodation, fees, and outstanding debts.

South African Students Congress Gauteng chair Luvuyo Barnes said the minister was out of touch with the challenges facing students, which ranged from financial exclusion to a lack of suitable accommodation.

Students were continuing with their hunger strike at Wits to raise awareness about its accommodation crisis, he said.

Barnes claimed students without accommodation were forced to sleep in libraries and toilets. 

Pandor said her department was ready to assist the universities, and she had instructed director-general Gwebinkundla Qonde and officials to provide support to those institutions affected by student protests. Wits is the only university in Gauteng currently affected by student protests.

She had also directed the National Student Financial Aid Scheme to prioritise resolving student queries as a matter of urgency.  

kahnt@businesslive.co.za