Student protests at Wits a symptom of Blade Nzimande’s indifference
15 October 2015
Recent student protests at Wits University serve to underscore the abysmal failure of Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande, to provide adequate tertiary education funding to those students who can least afford it.
Students at Wits began protesting earlier this week after an announcement by the University that fees were being hiked. The stark reality is that the ANC government does not make enough funds available to subsidise student fees. While Minister Nzimande is fully aware of the desperate need for more funding, he has done nothing to address the matter, showing utter disregard for millions of young South Africans seeking further education.
Minister Nzimande commissioned a report, which was released in February last year, entitled the Report of the Ministerial Committee for the Review of the Funding of Universities, which made it clear that South Africa’s universities are grossly underfunded.
The report, found that South Africa’s budget for universities as a percentage of GDP was only 0.75%, which is lower than the Africa-wide proportion of 0.78%, the world-wide proportion of 0.84% and the proportion spent by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) of 1.21%.
The report also noted that between 2000 and 2010, state funding per full-time equivalent student fell by 1.1% annually in real terms, while fees per each of these students increased by 2.5% annually in the same period.
The Report then recommends that “the amount of government funding is not sufficient to meet the needs of the public university system” and that “Government should increase the funding for higher education, to be more in line with international levels of expenditure. This will enable the system to improve the functioning and resourcing of the universities, especially the under-developed universities”.
Minister Nzimande is well aware that institutions of higher learning simply do not have the funds to lower student fees, and in order to do so, require additional government funding.
Yet instead of heeding the findings of the report and listening to student concerns, the Minister has failed to take action, which has resulted in widespread student protest across the country, such as the current protest at Wits.
While President Zuma announced that a Task Team will be established to find short term solutions to student funding challenges, this Task Team will be set up to fail if it does not include representation from Treasury. More needs to be done, urgently.
The DA furthermore condemns any violence emanating from the protests, and calls for calm action from both students and members of the South African Police Service (SAPS).
Higher Education provides our young people with opportunities to find jobs and therefore work, toward a better life for themselves and their families. We must do all we can to ensure there is a proper and solid commitment to provide more funding to these young people and the universities and colleges themselves, to ensure the maximum number of opportunities for the maximum number of young people in viable and well-resourced institutions.
It is time for Minister Nzimande to break his silence, take full responsibility, and announce bold and decisive action.
Statement issued by Prof Belinda Bozzoli, DA Shadow Minister of Higher Education, 15 October 2015