Youth must be empowered to bring about a better South Africa

The following speech was delivered in Parliament today by DA Member of the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education & Training, Hlomela Bucwa MP, during the debate on Youth Day.

Honourable Chair,

Let me begin by sharing simple words from one of the leaders who has inspired me not because he spoke to truth to power or fought for equal rights, but because he lived that which he preached.

Dr Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

He did not choose to place one issue above the other, or one race over another, but argued that we would inevitably lose our humanity the day we refused to speak out.

Honourable Members, we believe that every South African is of equal worth regardless of class, race, gender or creed.

It is indeed a great tragedy that, two decades into our democracy, young people remain locked out of opportunities. They are victims of an unjust system that continues to favour the elite few.

It is easier for some to stand here and pretend they have a good story to tell as some of these members sit in ivory towers oblivious to the challenges faced by our youth on the ground.

For some of us, it is unfathomable how one can continue to say they are doing well while the majority of youth are still not free from the shackles of poverty and unemployment, while young women lack total freedom of movement because of crime and lack of sanitary towels.

It is the greatest irony, noting that the government is celebrating the centenary of Nelson Mandela – whose legacy they claim must be lived.

Former President Mandela said: “education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person of another.”

However, the unfortunate reality we face today is that:

  • Unemployment has increased: we have 9.5 million people who can’t find employment or have given up on searching for a job;
  • Of the 20 million young people between the ages of 15 -35, almost 8 million are not in education, training or employment;
  • 71% of schools have no library facilities and almost 60% of schools do not have computer labs;
  • 490 699 learners drop out of school between grades 10 and 12;
  • 35% of students in institutions of higher learning drop out due to the lack of funding for tuition, accommodation, transport and food;
  • 39 828 rape incidences have been reported in the year 2016/17; and
  • Between 2014 and 2016 a total of 42 253 pupils from Grades 3 to 12 fell pregnant. 193 of these pupils were in Grades 3, 4 and 5.

These are not characteristics of a growing state or one that seeks sustainable socio-economic development with an emphatic focus on the youth as we remain the present and the future of our country.

There is no true freedom in poverty and unemployment. There is no freedom without quality education when our TVET colleges are degenerating each day.

When our students are subjected to inhumane living conditions and lack of resources we set them up for failure. When we fail to support young entrepreneurs and glorify looting we fail our nation.

But a critical point I must emphasise again is the importance of education as a tool of empowerment for our youth. It remains a tragedy that access to quality education remains skewed according to income level that, in turn, correlates with race.

In other words, many black children from low-income households continue to be denied opportunities because of the huge inequality in terms of instructional quality that exists in the South African education system.

The expansion of access to education for all children has been one of the great achievements of the democratic era. The focus has included increasing the quantity of teachers, sometimes to the detriment of quality.

Therefore, we see many of our students in institutions of higher learning struggling and you’d find that we try to fix basic education problems in higher education.

As a country, we must invest in quality technical and vocational education and skills training (TVET), and university education.

The funding of tuitions for students and education and training institutions remains an issue for education and skills development in the country. For example, the TVET college sector is underfunded by government.

In 2017/18, the subsidies only covered 53% of costs rather than 80% as prescribed by policy, leaving 50 government-funded TVETs struggling under social and financial pressures from students and staff.

While there is an increase in enrolments, the amount of students who do not complete their qualifications is astronomical.

Chair, a DA-led government would prioritise our TVET colleges by revising the curriculum and content provided to equip our youth with skills that will enable them to actively participate in the economy, be innovative and solve the challenges they face today.

We will continue to advocate for more practical training to ensure that we reach the 70/30 requirement. We would ensure that we amend the current funding policy to ensure that our students get their allowances on time as it is inhumane to allow students to register and only release allowances after five months into the academic year. Our students would be provided with dignified accommodation that would ensure a living and learning environment.

The DA funding model in institutions of higher learning seeks to ensure that no student who is eligible to study is prevented to do so because they cannot afford to. It will ensure that a child of a domestic worker can acquire and education and be granted funding which will cover full cost of study.

Those who fall within the missing middle would be proportionally subsidised and those who can afford must pay. To suggest that the child of Honourable Ramaphosa must study for free is an injustice –  it perpetuates inequality.

Lastly, Chair, allow me to draw strength again from Dr King who said: “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

The strides of the youth of ‘76 were not in vain and should never be undermined, as they served as great contributors to the freedoms we enjoy today.

The time has come again for the youth to rise and take out the government and usher in a new beginning.

The DA recognises and acknowledges the injustices of the past and seeks to achieve on South Africa for all where we can live in a free, fair and diverse country with equal opportunities for all.

Higher Education Department going insolvent

The Auditor-General’s (AG) 2016-17 report on Higher Education and Training contains a range of ominous warnings which need urgent attention. The report found that:

  • The Department is carrying substantial liabilities which have significantly increased this year. The AG says that the Department is in “a negative overdraft and negative cash flow” position. Next year the Department might well be unable to continue sustainably.
  • Irregular expenditure reached an unprecedented R929 million in the 2016/17 year, 94% of which has not been investigated yet. Most of this irregular expenditure occurs in the SETAs. One SETA – EWSETA – misspent no less than R290m. and the National Skills Fund misspent R170m.
  • 24 of the 50 TVET Colleges received a qualified, adverse or disclaimed audit opinion.
  • Five TVET Colleges have not yet submitted their Annual Financial Statements – some have not done so since 2014
  • This year, the TVET sector has met only 1 of its 12 targets, and the Community College sector has met none.
  • Most Universities carry enormous levels of student debt, much of which has to be written off. Their situation is likely to have worsened rather than improved in the subsequent two years.

In a separate 2015 study, 10 universities (NWU, WSU, SMU, UNIVEN, UNISA, TUT, CPUT, CUT, MUT and VUT) incurred operating deficits and 4 (NWU, MUT, UNISA and MUT) made annual losses.
This massive, and unwieldy Department has 78 entities reporting directly to it, as well as indirect responsibility for 26 Universities. Managing all of this is too much for it to handle on its current budget and staffing level, as our economy staggers under the burden of ANC failure.
Our students in SETAs, TVETs and universities are being seriously let down as the Department and its institutions decay. The future of higher education looks bleak and this situation must be addressed with urgency.

The dream of South Africa as a learning nation is “alive and well” in the DA

Chairperson, Honourable members
I recently reminded the Minister of the dream which we all shared in the 1990’s.
A dream that this nation would become a learning nation. One in which all South Africans would be able to break the shackles of poverty and unlock their potential, through an effective public training system.
TVET colleges were part of that dream. Yet, instead of growing the number of college students, we saw a 32% decline from 2015 to 2016 in the number of students enrolled for the National Certificate Vocational (NCV) Level 4.
60% of TVET colleges are dysfunctional with a pass rate of less than 40%. Less than 5% of the initial intake passed Level 4 in the prescribed time. The department is only providing 54%, of the operating budgets that TVET colleges are entitled to. And due to the complete lack of a capital budget for years, most of the equipment needed for training is completely outdated.
While young people in Pakistan are taught to fix cell phones, our curricula still refer to the sending and receipt of telegrams.
We saw last year that numerous examination papers only arrived at examination centres after the due date for the examinations. The late release of examination results has become the norm, resulting in students not knowing whether they should register or study for the supplementary examinations.
Those that do pass, have to wait for years to receive their certificates from the department. The Minister seems oblivious to how serious the situation is. The department is constantly passing the buck and blaming the colleges for the department’s mismanagement.
DA run governments are, in contrast to this, recognised for their good administrative practices. Accountability will ensure that the problems that I referred to earlier, be addressed.
A DA run department of Higher Education would make sure that TVET colleges received the necessary support they need. We would align the pass requirements and level of the NCV with that of the National Senior Certificate examinations.
Pass and through-put rates would form part of the performance assessment of college principal’s work.
The out-dated NATED or N-programmes’ curricula would be thoroughly overhauled, and we would undertake a critical assessment of the costs and practicability of the trimester system.
The college councils would be given freedom to develop their own organograms within approved staff budgets, in order to attract lecturers with the necessary qualifications and to provide for local challenges.
The TVET colleges would be assisted to improve their images with prospective employers, while employers would be incentivised to partner with public colleges for workplace-based training.
Chairperson, as you can see, the dream of South Africa as a learning nation is “alive and well” in the DA.
I thank you.

Higher Education is stagnating

The vast Ponzi scheme that is the ANC-run economy is running out of money. The ANC bottom-feeders who rely on patronage for their well-being are getting anxious. More looting needs to be found to appease them.
Thus, Nuclear Energy must take priority, even if it means bankrupting us all. For only through a huge new scheme like this, can enough be found to mollify those who depend on the “Politics of the Belly”.
Other budget items of unquestionable social good are neglected if they cannot be plundered. Higher Education is one of these. And so, as a sector, it is stagnating.
We might be forgiven for thinking that things are going much better in Higher Education.
Measured against our low standards for stability, “only” a handful of reports of rioting and protests have emerged in the past few months. Registration seems to have gone relatively smoothly, and R1.2 billion in additional funding has been pumped into NSFAS this year with more to come.
But this all hides a darker reality. The public is generally unaware that the fundamentals in this sector remain shaky, if not downright crumbling.
Students are appeased for now, but deep structural weaknesses remain.
The institutional weaknesses resulting from financial neglect will take decades to fix. And new money is needed for this. Instead of new money, the current R5 billion Higher Education boost has mainly been taken from within Higher Education via the Skills Levy – without any guarantees that the skills that the Levy was designed to produce would be forthcoming.
Not only that: an increase in NSFAS funding does not represent a real change in income for Universities and Colleges themselves.
Putting money into NSFAS assists students, of course; but the most NSFAS funding can do for Universities and Colleges themselves is to reduce what is owed to them by students. This is important, but it does not address the fundamentals of the system.
The real indicator of Higher Education financial health is the level of subsidy. Which is a disaster.
University subsidies are far below what is required and will continue to increase at way below the required rate of 8 to 10 percent, putting severe pressure on students, universities and academic staff.
This is the hidden truth of University funding.
On the College side: the R7.4 billion allocated to Colleges (54% of what they actually cost to run) is pitiful.
As a result, the savings and investments of institutions – where they have them – have been reduced, and in some cases completely decimated, over the past two years, to pay for the costs of the demands made upon them.
Several Universities are experiencing severe financial stress. Rescue funding might be needed for some.
So serious are the challenges that the department has reduced its growth targets for the next three years.
One-third of our 900 000 university students – some 300 000 – attend UNISA. But UNISA is now creaking at the seams, plagued by inefficiency, and has had to reduce its student numbers, thus slowing the department’s growth ambitions for Universities.
The Universities are stagnating.
But this is nothing compared to Colleges – planned growth by 2020 is down from R1.2 million to R700 000.
Half a million students will not be offered a College place as planned.
Our TVET Colleges are anyway outdated and stale and students are not flocking to attend them. Built in another era, they flounder in the modern economy, and struggle to find staff with the requisite experience, or students with the requisite school subjects.
The Colleges are stagnating.
The third arm of the department, the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETA), are meant to provide us with another route to skills acquisition, and the R13.6 billion they control should go a lot further than it does. But many of the SETAS remain shaky rent-seeking institutions.
The Minister has abandoned all of his plans to restructure the sector until 2020 and nobody knows what will happen then.
The SETAs are stagnating.
In all three sectors of his department Minister Nzimande is managing a holding operation. Perhaps he is looking forward to 2019 when he retires after the ANC loses the election.
So immense are the needs, both educational and financial, of this sector that I suspect he has given up trying to find ways of meeting them. The bold ambitions of the Post-School Education White Paper, are one by one being shelved.
In fact, of course, in a rapidly changing world, stagnation means decay. History rolls on, and Higher Education stays still.
The Commission of Enquiry into Fee Free Higher Education is due to report in a matter of weeks, and its findings are very likely to be controversial.
Fee decisions for 2018 are going to be considered in the middle of this year. Underfunded Universities and Colleges will have no choice but to increase fees by significant amounts. We all know what that means.
The society is already in a state of generalised anger and upheaval. The President is effectively in hiding from his own people. None of this augurs well for the remainder of this year in both Universities and Colleges.
As is the case in our cities, towns and villages, discontent in our Universities and Colleges will probably once again spill over into damaging protests, led by extremely dissatisfied and highly politicised students and possibly staff.
For this ongoing tragedy, we have only the government to blame.
But the Nuclear Deal remains the number one priority for the Bernie Madoff of South Africa – our chief Ponzi scheme owner, President Jacob Zuma. Shame on him.
The DA, by contrast, is committed to a flourishing Higher Education sector, to an end to waste and neglect and to ensuring that our youth are provided with the skills and knowledge to make a real contribution to a growing economy.