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Three weeks ago Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande, promised to intervene to save Huguenot College (HC) in Wellington in the Western Cape from imminent closure, but he has still not even contacted college officials who fear that their students may not return next year if their crisis is not resolved immediately. The Democratic Alliance previously welcomed his promise to save the college - whose plight we brought to the attention of the Minister - but now we demand that he do so with urgency. The college, which trains up to 90 social workers each year, is set to lose its students by the end of this week if its limbo status is not rectified with the Minister's help. The DA calls on the Minister to contact Huguenot College officials immediately so that it can operate next year, as he promised.
This college is a national asset, rendering a crucial service to our country as a leading training institution within the domain of social services. It currently accommodates 800 undergraduate and postgraduate students in social service studies, and has to date already received applications from 600 prospective students for enrolment in 2011.
Besides the fact that this college delivers up to 90 well-trained social workers and community developers each year, the bigger percentage of registered social service providers on the official register of the South African Council for the Social Service Profession (SACSSP) completed their studies at the Huguenot College.
This institution accommodates mostly first-generation students originating from rural areas (Limpopo, Free State and Northern Cape). The smaller, personal teaching atmosphere at the College complements the professional development and teaching and learning of these students. But should these students be transferred to the University of Stellenbosch campus, they indicate that they will consider terminating their studies prematurely, leaving the profession of social work. Hence the Minister needs to step in quickly to avert the loss of these students.
On 26 October, the Democratic Alliance welcomed the announcement by the office of the Minister of Higher Education and Training, in a Member's Statement to Parliament, that:
• Dr. Nzimande is prepared to respond positively to an urgent appeal by the DA to prevent the Huguenot College from closing its doors;
• he realises the country suffers from an enormous shortage of social workers;
• he is not prepared to allow the students to suffer as a result of the legal dilemma of the college; and
• he is prepared to actively assist the college to legalise its position, which inter alia means to obtain an academic partner.
On 27 October I sent a petition by Huguenot College students to Dr. Nzimande's office, outlining the plight of the college and making an urgent appeal for his intervention. To date the Minister has:
• failed to acknowledge receipt of the petition;
• failed to respond to all requests from the college to enter into dialogue with him; and
• failed to come to the rescue of the students and actively assist the college to legalise its position.
The situation regarding the future of the college is critical, because students must be informed about its future before the completion of the academic year on 19 November. However, I was confidentially informed that a senior official at the department said that Dr. Nzimande has ‘more important matters' on his agenda than the Huguenot College, and that neither he nor members of his senior staff intend to actively intervene. If this is the case, then the Minister must explain why he publicly stated his intent to help the college.
We would prefer to believe that Minister Nzimande realises our nation's need for social service providers, that he is not prepared to allow the students to suffer as a result of the college's legal dilemma, and that he is prepared to assist the college to become compliant with the Higher Education Act so that it can remain in operation. But this requires the Minister to attend to this matter immediately. The future social workers at Huguenot College cannot wait any longer.