Tuesday’s Cabinet reshuffle, which saw former Minister Blade Nzimande replaced by Hlengiwe Mkhize, only served as proof of government’s reluctance to resolve the numerous problems facing South Africa’s higher education sector.
Minister Mkhize can help revive the sector, but to do this there are five things she needs to do urgently. She must:
- Fight for more funding in Higher Education Sector
The National Treasury and the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) found that the sector is underfunded by a whopping R35 billion per annum. That’s not even taking into account the additional funding which will probably be recommended by the Fees Commission. Many learners cannot access higher learning, or obtain proper accommodation at Universities and TVETs. Their plight can also be greatly assisted by ensuring the National Student Financial Aid Scheme is governed to the highest standards.
- Insist on the release of the Fees Commission report by the President
It is now two years since the Commission was established to assess the feasibility of free higher education and nearly two months since President Jacob Zuma has received the final report. The President’s refusal to release the report in time for the Medium Term Budget Policy statement is ominous. Some universities have already announced fee increases with no indication from the President as to whether they will be assisted in covering their increasing costs. Delaying the release of the Fees Commission Report, and coming to terms with its possible financial implications, will only result in more deserving students being shut out of tertiary institutions and facing unemployment.
- Assist in problems of instability and poor governance at key institutions
Violent protests have recurred this year at numerous institutions – among others the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, the University of the Free State, and UKZN. Student learning and institutional stability have been threatened by this. Furthermore, numerous institutions, both Universities and TVETs, are poorly governed. The new Minister needs to address this as part of a commitment to excellence.
- Sort out accommodation problems at TVETs
Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVETs) institutions are the only hope for hundreds of thousands of young people who want to obtain skills required for the job market, especially those who cannot find places at universities. Despite this, there is little invested by the government into TVETs, meaning that their quality is poor, their curricula are dated and their teaching equipment is outdated or absent altogether. Student accommodation is both scarce and expensive. Some students who secure places at TVETs are unable to complete their studies due to the lack of accommodation and this cannot continue.
- Tackle the corruption and mismanagement in SETAs
A report by the Auditor-General found that, in the 2016/17 financial year, irregular expenditure within the Department itself as well as reached R929 million. Most of this was in the Skills Education Training Authorities (SETAs) – their irregular expenditure reached an all-time high. Indeed, many of them are rife with corruption, patronage and mismanagement. By rooting out such corruption, more funds can be freed for developing peoples’ skills.
Minister Mkhize has a chance to make a positive impact in the lives of our tertiary students. Government’s neglect of the higher education sector has robbed too many young people of access to jobs and bright futures. We cannot allow this to continue and the DA calls on Minister Mkhize to address these problems urgently and purposefully.