Higher education and training minister, Blade Nzimande has told the parliament that increasing university student funding was tantamount to the country shooting itself in the foot. This as a crisis already exists within public colleges, which are funded at about 62% instead of 80%, he told the portfolio committee on higher education on Tuesday.
“I would be irresponsible if I didn’t highlight the fact that while increasing student funding is welcome, it is not sufficient because if we increase student funding at the expense of the system, we are then shooting ourselves in the foot. In fact, we will be cutting off our nose to spite our face because, already, right now, there is [a threat] that student funding will be more than the money we give to universities and colleges to run their affairs,” said Nzimande.
He added that the department is already in big trouble when it comes to colleges because they are funded at about 62% instead of 80%. He said they are driving towards that target when it comes to universities, but it is still a big problem.
Nzimande said increasing the funding would almost collapse SA’s public education system, citing high rates of failing among students and the possibility of losing personnel, including lecturers.
“As we increase student funding, we should also be pushing for an increase, otherwise we are funding students to go into a system that will increasingly be unable to address their needs — what’s the point of doing that? Sourcing extra funding for university students is like ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’, says Nzimande
He expressed these sentiments two months after nationwide protests over funding. In the midst of the protest, the cabinet announced that it had approved an additional R7bn towards NSFAS. This meant taxpayers would spend R42.1bn on the scheme this year — up from the budget of nearly R35bn in 2020, which was already more than the R32bn the year before.
The cabinet also announced that it had tasked Nzimande to come up with a comprehensive review of student funding and revert with a report before the end of June. The minister said much work had been done and he was assembling a team to look at the work already done.
“We want this team to review and analyse this work and come back with a concrete proposal on review of student funding, including the work done by the Heher commission, which, by the way, in my previous tenure as minister of education I made an extensive input also dealing with the missing middle … I also appointed a ministerial task team to look into it, apart from other ministerial task teams which were appointed after 2009,” said Nzimande.
“Now is the opportunity to bring this all together to say to the cabinet, this is the way forward, so that at least we can work towards not having a challenge at the beginning of each year insofar as student funding is concerned,” he added.
Nzimande also announced key senior appointments in his department, which portfolio committee members had previously expressed concern about.