South African Students Congress

SASCO Response to the Budget Vote Speech of the Minister of Higher Education!

The Minister has relegated Free Education to Permanent Oblivion!

13 May 2015

As the South African Student Congress we are off the view that the Minister of Higher Education has not said anything today. It is with great disappointment to note that the budget as delivered today was business as usual as if the higher education sector is absolutely stable. Our view is that the budget does not appear to be structured in a manner that signals a radical shift in our funding regime.

We note the 5.9 percent increase in the budget taking it to R46.3 billion over the midterm period but we do not believe that the increase is decisive in addressing our prevailing situation. We are also concerned with how the funds are allocated across the various spectrums of the department.

University funding in South Africa still lags behind even the African average in terms of the overall budget of the country's national fiscus. We are currently sitting at 1.4 percent and the African average is 1.8 percent. Until the government and more particularly the National Treasury increases higher education allocation we will continue to be chasing shadows as a nation.

Our observation is that the speech is an arrogant display of the ideology of permanent postponements, which have been the highlight of the Minister's reign. We see yet again that the programme of implementing Free Education has been postponed, if not relegated to permanent oblivion.

We are equally taken aback by the less than 1% increase in NSFAS funding allocation for the coming financial year. This is particularly concerning as NSFAS covers less than 50% of students who meet the current means test requirement for funding, excluding an overwhelming majority of needy students who continue to face financial exclusion. This essentially means that we will be faced with an even bigger crisis of student funding in 2016 as current students will be competing for funding with new entrants into the system.

The assertion that the focus on the intake in colleges is now no longer a priority for the department is very concerning, more so when the vast majority of young people still find it difficult in getting into the post-schooling system. Whilst we welcome the increases over the years, we believe that they ought to be continued until we reach the 1 million-enrollment target.

We must remind the DHET about the need to reverse the current inverted pyramid that is reflected by the enrollment numbers in our post-schooling system. We do not see a contraction in increasing the quality of provisioning in our colleges whilst increasing their intake. The logic used by government is not fundamentally different from those made by conservatives who argue that the increase of blacks in our higher education has reduced quality.

We are also disturbed by the disappearance of the Oversight Committee on Transformation in South African Universities. We thought that government was going to issue instructions that will bring back this committee from its self-imposed exile. What is more appalling about this disappearance is that it happens at a time when there is a prevailing discourse in the nation around the question of transformation. We hope the resourcing of the committee that the minister is speaking about will assist in bring this committee into life.

We agree with the minister that despite the struggle against symbols and statues, these should not be confused with fundamental questions on transformation. We welcome the commitment on transformation this year. It is in this light that we welcome the discussion on the review of the Higher Education Act. We hope that the relook at the act will help close the discussion around institutional autonomy and public accountability. We plead with both the ministry and parliament to be decisive and not be scared of court threats that some reactionary Vice-Chancellors and institutions always pose. We believe that all those who want government to be totally distance from institutions are doing so with the intention of preserving the exclusionary policies and practices in those institutions.

We are encouraged by the dedication of resources to Historically Disadvantaged Institutions (HDIs) and the policy targets that have been pronounced by the minister in terms of funding stemming from the Ramaphosa Funding Committee. We believe that this is in line with a programme of reversing the legacy of Verwoerd that the DA and Alister Sparks are cherishing.

We also welcome the increased allocation to transfers to universities for infrastructure of R10.5 billion. We believe that this allocation will assist in upgrading our previously disadvantaged institutions.

We call for the release of the report of the Ministerial Working Group on Fee-Free Education done by Professor D Swarts. The ANC conference in Mangaung resolved on the implementation of free education from 2014 and this resolution is yet to be realized. It is quite disturbing for the minister to present a budget speech a year after the programme should be in place and fails to mention free education let alone the policy implementation framework that was promised for 2013. The budget presented today proves to us that the minster is not only failing to implement free education but is opposed to it.

Issued by the NEC of SASCO

Ntuthuko Makhombothi (President) 0718752209
Luzuko Buku (Secretary General) 07187