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JEREMY MAGGS: All right, let’s move away from politics now to education. The fate of hundreds of thousands of students registered with Damelin, CityVarsity and Lyceum College hangs in the balance today after the institutions’ registrations were cancelled by the Department of Higher Education. I’m in conversation now with Veli Mbele, who speaks for the department. Veli, welcome to you, remind us what this means, both for the institutions and for students.

VELI MBELE: Thank you so much for the opportunity, and afternoon to your listeners. So this follows a decision that was taken by the department through the registrar. The registrar, in this case, is the director-general in terms of the regulations. The registrar, who was the director-general, published the cancellation of the four institutions under Educor. You’ve mentioned CityVarsity, Damelin, Intec College and Lyceum College, which implies the following, that they will now be required to stop operating as a registered institution and amongst others, the implications are the following, that they would have to have formally informed the students, that’s what the regulations require them to do, where there are students who have got monies due to them, they have to reimburse those students.

But the other thing that they’re also required to do in terms of the regulations, is to make sure that they are assisting in those students getting alternative academic institutions, be they public or private, for them to complete their courses.

That’s in the regulations. And when they receive their registration or accreditation as a private higher education institution, that is part of the obligations they agree to.

JEREMY MAGGS: And to the best of your knowledge, is that, or has that happened?

VELI MBELE: To the best of our knowledge that has not happened. Many of the queries we’ve received from students suggest that they have not even been given the decency of being formally informed. Because just this morning, I was dealing with at least three new queries from students who heard me talk on radio yesterday, and they have informed me about their frustration with regard to the poor communication of Educor.

So we have evidence to suggest that they have not even had the decency to formally inform the students and we are trying to help on our end as the department.

JEREMY MAGGS: So what is your next step then, in terms of that process?

VELI MBELE: So the next step is the decision to cancel requires the Educor Group to make an appeal to the department, the decision can be appealed. So they are required to make an appeal, which appeal will then determine whether the department will uphold or review the decision. Just by way of background, this was communicated to them in July last year formally, through the [Government] Gazette, and since July they’ve been asking for extensions. The first extension was for September 2023. We granted that, then they asked for an extension until February this year. We also granted that; they have now asked for a third extension for October 2024.

The extensions relate to them promising to address the issues we addressed with them and unfortunately, we have not seen any serious attempt on their part to address the issues for which we have granted them an extension.

This is why it has come to this because we had to protect the students from an institution or set of institutions that are actually operating in a manner that’s not consistent with the regulations and we could not endorse this.

JEREMY MAGGS: And if they’re not doing that, what about students who have qualifications already from those institutions? Would they still be recognised, do they still have value?

VELI MBELE: Yes, remember, and we made it clear in the media briefing yesterday, there’s no pronouncement that the department has made in its correspondence and in the media briefing as it relates to the validity of the academic qualifications that students have acquired through these institutions.

So at this stage, the academic qualifications are not in question.

This is why we have made the offer to help assist in finding them alternative placement. So there shouldn’t be panic as it relates to the academic qualifications because we have not made that pronouncement or determination as the department. For now, we are dealing with mainly the compliance issues relating to their financials and other issues that relate to their operating standards.

JEREMY MAGGS: Approximately how many students do you think are involved?



VELI MBELE: The number that we have, which was initially misrepresented, the number that we have is 13 096.

JEREMY MAGGS: And the minister (Blade Nzimande) saying yesterday, warning these institutions not to use PR spin, what was he saying?

VELI MBELE: Essentially, what the minister sought to communicate by that was that it will not be useful to want to deal with this matter either by wanting to engage in a public spat, amongst others, or to try and cast doubt insofar as the decision of the department is concerned. So the minister was essentially saying there’s an opportunity for the leadership of Educor to engage the department, and the best way to engage the department is by using the existing formal channels because any other form of engagement is not going to be helpful.

We need the leadership of Educor, or wherever they are, to come to the table and talk to the department so that we find a solution. That’s really our interest as the department and this is not meant to embarrass them or to humiliate anybody.

We were just doing what we are obliged to do in terms of the law. But there is still an opportunity to talk to them or for them to talk to us as the department.

JEREMY MAGGS: You’ve mentioned the four institutions. Would the department be probing other institutions as well as these?

VELI MBELE: So the department generally, either based on public information or based on our own knowledge, we generally conduct investigations. So it’s not an extraordinary thing, we generally conduct investigations.

Remember, we also have a standing campaign as a department that relates to exposing bogus colleges. So it is always something that we are monitoring throughout the year.

So it wouldn’t be extraordinary.

JEREMY MAGGS: But the focus right now is the students themselves. That’s where the sympathy lies and where the concern should be.

VELI MBELE: Absolutely. I can tell you now, just before we actually took this interview, I was just helping two students through our unit that deals with private higher education. They sent queries to me directly. I was just dealing with those. That is the focus quite correctly, at least from our part. Hopefully we will get the leadership of Educor to come to us so that they can also help in the effort. I am helping in my capacity as an official and so do the rest of the team who are working with us to give the students the answers that we can give them, the advice and to direct them, both in terms of their studies and the reimbursement.

JEREMY MAGGS: All right. Veli Mbele, thank you very much indeed from the Department of Higher Education.