R5.2bn cuts to Education and Science will cripple already-burdened provincial departments

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is extremely concerned that the 2020-21 budgets of Education and Science will be reduced by R5.2 billion in the Adjustment Budget tabled by the Minister of Finance, Tito Mboweni. Funding will be transferred to help pay for the costs of managing the Covid-19 pandemic. The plundering of one budget to fund another is not what we expected to find when the President boasted about his R300bn support for the Covid effort.

R2.1 billion will be cut from Basic Education, R1.7 billion from Higher Education and R1.4 billion from Science and Innovation. That is an enormous amount of money and these cuts will cascade down to Provinces where funding is already extremely tight and many schools are struggling with basics such as the supply of sufficient classrooms, or the installation of toilets, and cannot open during the Covid-19 pandemic because of this.

To make this worse, huge further cuts are being made to Provincial budgets, with very serious consequences for the two main functions of provinces – health and education. Provincial education departments are already unsure of how they will cope with the scale of the cuts envisaged and sustain the education system they manage.

During this pandemic, education should be an area which receives additional funding rather than having its funding slashed. There have been multiple new expenses involved in getting schools, Universities and Colleges re-started in times of a pandemic and these will continue.

Education and science spending should not be considered as consumption spending, but as investment spending.  Indeed the cuts will affect the most important investment our society can make in its own future – the education of its children and young adults, and the pursuit of crucial research and higher degrees.  Areas which will be affected will go far beyond the limited infrastructure in many schools.

  • Precious programmes will be weakened.
  • Young learners will be squeezed into even bigger classes.
  • Teachers will be even more burdened, because there is no sufficient additional teachers that will be employed.
  • Badly-needed classrooms will not be built.
  • College curricula will not be updated as promised.
  • Students and universities will once again be set back after just having reached a reasonable level of funding.
  • Postgraduates, who are already grossly underfunded, will find themselves in an even worse situation,
  • critical research projects will have to be paused.

If we look at the Departments whose budgets will be boosted under the adjustment budget, it is ironic that the Education cuts are very similar in scale to the increases in both the Police and Army budgets.

The latter two Departments will receive an additional R3.7bn and R2.8bn respectively, totaling R6.5bn. What does this say? It says we seem to be becoming  a society that prefers to fund the forces of law and order rather than ensuring the futures of millions of young people.

The DA is deeply concerned about these cuts. And the plundering of education is of particular concern to us as it affects the long term future of society. Education budgets worldwide are suffering during the Covid epidemic, and educationists and activists in many countries are pushing back against this. We will be joining them.