Long-term solution needed for Higher Education crisis - Belinda Bozzoli

Zuma's R7 billion promise not treating the cause of the problem, says DA

Zuma’s R7 billion Higher Education promise: Crisis management is no way to run the system

17 December 2015

The national government’s management of the Higher Education system continues in the ANC’s worrying style of crisis and response, as President Zuma’s new R7 billion currently unfunded promise shows.

This week President Zuma’s task team, appointed to investigate the serious funding grievances raised by students during the #FeesMustFall protests in October this year, recommended that nearly R7bn should be provided to alleviate the situation over the coming year, and it appears that President Zuma has now promised to meet this by 2016.

Two serious questions arise from Zuma’s promise:

Firstly, will the enormous amount of R7bn be found in new budget for this short-term promise;

Secondly, will a more sustainable long-term solution to the chronic underfunding of the higher education system be forthcoming, or are we set to continue to lurch from funding crisis, to funding crisis?

These questions are set against a background of overt statements by student bodies that their protests will continue, even escalate, in January. 

The task team’s recommendations serve to reinforce what the DA has consistently pointed out in Parliament and elsewhere over a long period of time: that the ANC government has been systemically underfunding higher education over many years, and has failed utterly to respond to the resulting rising tide of protest and institutional decay.

It has taken ferocious and widespread protest action, and national condemnation of Minister Nzimande and then of President Zuma himself, to persuade the President to take the funding of Higher Education seriously.

Following the submission of the task team report, on Wednesday Zuma appears to have pledged that some R4.843bn will be provided immediately, with a further R2.039bn promised for the 2016-17 financial year, to relieve the multiple crises that have hit the Higher Education system. 

The promised funding will be made up as follows:

R2.3bn to pay for the fee shortfall resulting from his Napoleonic decree that there should be no fee increases in 2016.  

R2.543 billion in the form of loans to assist the more than 71,000 students who owe money to Universities, and

R2.039 billion in the 2016/17 financial year to ensure that currently unfunded continuing students receive NSFAS support in the 2016 academic year.

The DA welcomes this belated acknowledgement by the President that there is something wrong with Higher Education funding. For it is funding above all issues that lay beneath the recent student protests and that will continue to plague the system for years to come.

Now we call on President Zuma to follow through and ensure that the promised funding is actually made available, and that is sourced from budgets other than that of the cash-strapped Department of Higher Education itself. It should not be taken from monies already promised for other important educational projects such as the uplifting of underfunded campuses and institutions or the training of artisans. Our poorest tertiary institutions and our skills education sector should not have to pay for the government’s failings. 

The deadline for this short-term funding promise from President Zuma is fast approaching, as 2016 is now just days away and students in need of funding will start registering on campuses in the first or second week of January.

This will also be an inaugural test for new Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan who needs to ensure that the billions promised by Zuma are sourced responsibly, and not at the cost of other critical education commitments.

Until new funding actually materialises from Zuma's promise, Universities will be left to carry the burden from their declining budgets, and protests will continue in the New Year. 

Moreoever, all of these are short-term solutions to deep and long-standing weaknesses. Any serious attempt to address the problems in Higher Education must take a far longer perspective and address fundamental structural issues rather than focus on protest-prevention and crisis management. 

President Zuma, Minister Nzimande and Minister Gordhan owe the country an explanation: how do they intend to address the endemic problems of the sector over the long term? What plans do they have to recapitalise Higher Education and run it professionally, so that Universities and Colleges will be able to fulfil the hopes and dreams of hundreds of thousands of young people? Unless they can provide us with plausible answers to these questions, we will continue with the crisis-and response mode of management year in and year out.

This is no way to run a Higher Education system.

Issued by Belinda Bozzoli, Shadow Minister of Higher Education, DA, 17 December 2015