Higher education minister Blade Nzimande has appealed to students to end their national shutdown over registration at universities.

He was addressing parliament’s higher education and training portfolio committee on Tuesday.

“The shutdown must be called off as soon as possible because we are worried the academic year is already short,” he said.

Nzimande was glad some universities had managed to resolve the registration issue which led to students engaging in protests. “The sooner we start with the academic year, the better,” he said.

Nzimande said his other worry was that the country was facing a third wave of Covid-19 infections, which may cause further delays in the academic year.

He was concerned that the protests had become a regular feature.

“Every year, it’s like a soap, The Bold and the Beautiful. Every beginning of the year there is instability,” he said.

Nzimande said he was hoping to resolve the issue of the “missing middle” to avoid instability in higher education.

He said as far as obligations were concerned, the government had met its obligations.

“The heart of the issue is as simple as this: National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) students are catered for, which is government’s policy with the means test, which is family income of R350,000 per annum. That is catered for and dealt with.”

He said the country continued to have free education for the poor and working class but the challenge was currently with the “missing middle”.

Nzimande said the department was engaging with vice-chancellors from the different universities. He said he was collecting data from universities to first understand the nature of the debt to see if it could be written off.

In the same meeting, student leaders from the SA Union of Students called on the police to stop using rubber bullets to disperse students. This follows the recent death of bystander Mthokozisi Ntumba during a fees protest near Wits University in Johannesburg