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Where to now for college students after deregistration?

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The Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Blade Nzimande, addressed the media in Pretoria on Tuesday regarding the deregistration of four Educor colleges, namely Damelin, City Varsity, Icesa City Campus and Lyceum College, as private higher learning institutes.

The Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Blade Nzimande, said students at Educor institutions have been complaining about the poor quality of teaching and learning, lack of proper administrative support, poorly qualified staff and corruption and bribery. File picture: Unsplash

PRIVATE higher education institutions under the embattled Educor Group have for a long time been plagued by a myriad of problems, including allegations of awarding passes to non-deserving students, and non-payment of staff.

For years, the national Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation has been inundated by students at Educor campuses complaining about the poor quality of teaching and learning, lack of proper administrative support, poorly qualified staff, corruption and bribery, lack of response for requests for refunds, lack of professionalism, exploitation of poor students, non-payment of staff salaries and underpayment of staff salaries.

This was revealed by the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Blade Nzimande, when he addressed the media in Pretoria on Tuesday regarding the deregistration of four Educor colleges, namely Damelin, City Varsity, Icesa City Campus and Lyceum College as private higher learning institutes.

“These four institutions failed to comply with the requirements of the (Higher Education) Act and the regulations. Firstly, they failed to fulfil the requirement for registration as contemplated in Section 2b of the Act; they failed to discharge their responsibilities as required by the regulations,” said Nzimande.

“In particular, the Educor institutions have failed to submit their annual financial statements and the tax clearance certificates for the 2021 and 2022 years as proof of their financial viability. As government, we make sure that these institutions are financially viable. It is part of the requirements that they have got to meet.

“We are now moving into the 2023 cycle. The four Educor institutions were required to lodge an appeal with the minister on or before the September 26 last year. They then requested an extension to February 28, 2024.”

Nzimande said the Educor institutions are now seeking a further extension.

“They think I must be among the kindest of ministers to keep on granting extension after extension, where they know that they are supposed to comply in terms of the law,” he said.

“In addition to failing to submit evidence of their financial viability to the department, the four Educor brands can be deemed as dysfunctional. This is mainly measured against the daily complaints and grievances received from students, most of which remain unresolved.

“If I am not mistaken, one of the complaints I remember receiving was that students were given marks based on exam scripts that were never marked because the lecturers were no longer at work, because they were not being paid. This is the worst sin that can be committed by an education institution – public or private. You just cannot lie and give student marks based on scripts that were never marked or as if there was an exam that was written,” said the minister.

In addition, Nzimande said that after “serious issues” were brought to his attention, the Higher Education Quality Committee withdrew the accreditation of some programmes for City Varsity, Damelin and Lyceum College.

“Another matter is misrepresentation on student numbers. Educor claims to have 50,000 learners in the system – so they claim. This information is incorrect,” said Nzimande.

“Since the 2022 annual reports indicate the breakdown of student enrolment as follows: City Varsity has 540 students in 2022 annual report; Damelin had 4,012 students; Icesa City Campus had 145 students; and Lyceum College has 8,399 students. In total, this was 13,096 not the 50,000 they were claiming.”

Nzimande said the Educor Group has been inflating its enrolment figures in a bid to conceal the fact that students were jumping off the sinking ship.

The minister outlined the obligations of an institution on the cancellation of its registration.

An institution that has been notified by the Registrar that its provisional registration has lapsed in terms of Regulation 17(3) or that its provisional registration or registration has been cancelled in terms of Regulation 17 must:

– inform its students within 14 days from the date of the Registrar’s notice that its registration has lapsed or been cancelled and notify the students of the arrangements that will be made to safeguard their interests in terms of this regulation;

– issue to each enrolled student a copy of his or her academic transcript as contemplated in the regulations;

– reimburse or compensate any enrolled student who has a lawful claim on the institution as a consequence of its ceasing to operate from funds established as contemplated in the regulations;

– make adequate arrangements for affected students to complete their programmes at a comparable public or private institution;

– cease operating before or at the end of the academic year, and any institution that fails to comply is guilty of an offence in terms of section 66 of the Act.; and

– ensure that no new students are enrolled after the date specified by the Registrar.

“In conclusion, there is not much information available about the current leadership structure at Educor and there is no credible evidence to suggest that the management of Educor is working to improve or correct some of the serious governance and compliance failures I have referred to,” said Nzimande.

“What we are seeing, instead, are students and staff being left stranded and we wish to urge the affected staff to seek the assistance of the Labor Court and the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.”

Under these circumstances, Nzimande said with the information at his disposal, it would be “unconscionable” to maintain the registration status of these four private institutions and allow his department to become complicit in “gross governance and compliance failures”.

“Most concerning, by doing so, we would be failing as the department in our obligation to protect the rights and dignity of students, who simply wanted to acquire an academic qualification with the view to improve their lives and that of their families,” he said.

Nzimande said the complaints also extend to other brands such as Intec College and Damelin Correspondence College that fall under the jurisdiction of the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations, the QCTO.

In January, it was reported that lecturers and other staffers within the Educor Group had not been paid their salaries for December.

Some of the staffers complained of the same happening in October and November.

One of them said they had been threatened with dismissal if they failed to report for duty this week.

“Things are bad, as we have not received our salaries for December. We are being told by a manager at Pretoria City that if we do not report to work, it’s going to be unpaid leave, yet we have not received our December salaries till now.

“Now, we are being threatened by the manager that if we strike, he is going to make sure that we get fired,” she said.

The staff member said some of the employees received their November salaries on December 18, while their December salaries were yet to reflect in their bank accounts.

“We are expected to report to work even though our salaries are still outstanding, on the fear that we will get dismissed,” she said.

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