It may take another month or two for students at Tvet colleges across the country to receive laptops that will help them with online learning under level three of the lockdown.

This was revealed by Higher Education Minister Dr Blade Nzimande on Thursday during his visit to the Umgungundlovu Tvet College to assess its readiness for the return of students to campus.

Responding to questions from students at the college, Nzimande said his department has for weeks been engaging “tirelessly” with National Treasury on the procurement of learning devices, particularly laptops, for students funded by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

Bongiwe Mkhize, a mechanical engineering student, asked Nzimande why laptops had not yet been provided. “We are going on a two-week break and we need these laptops to continue with our studies,” Mkhize told Nzimande.

About 500 000 students from both Tvet colleges and universities are expected to receive laptops at a cost of over R3 billion.

Nzimande said when he announced this in April, he hoped the process of acquiring the laptops would happen quickly, until they realised what the cost would be. “When you take short cuts, even if legitimate, there are likely to be problems,” Nzimande said.

He said that a tender process will begin this week. “The danger sometimes of taking short cuts is you can be taken to court. If a case goes to court, it can sit there for a year or even more, which means you can’t be delivering laptops.

“After the expression of interest has been advertised, we’ll start sifting through the applications. It may take a month or two months before we complete that process.

“We request patience. Rather be slow and do it properly but in the end, you’re going to get these laptops. I don’t want to be associated with things that have question marks. Just be patient.”

He said half of the universities had already started delivering the laptops.

Nzimande added that the department had already negotiated with cellphone companies for students to receive data subsidised by government.

“We’re not only relying on online learning; we’re also using radio and TV because some students don’t have data and laptops yet.”

Nzimande said he was pleased that Umgungundlovu had ensured that it followed the national guidelines on the return of students.

Sphamandla Duma, SRC president at the Umgungundlovu Tvet College, said they were not happy because some students had not yet received their NSFAS funding.

“The department cannot expect students in class when they don’t have money to get to campus. There are students idling at home right now because they don’t have money,” said Duma.

He said of the 4 296 applicants, 774 were rejected for various reasons.

Meanwhile, Sihle Makhaye of the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union said they were shocked that the provision of laptops was only thought out under level 3.

“It’s worrying that up until now, the minister cannot say for sure when these laptops will be procured,” said Makhaye.