Bill would boost Blade’s powers
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Parliament - A draft law which could boost Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande’s powers vis-a-vis universities was quietly introduced in Parliament – even as higher education issues from funding to transformation are subject to a presidential task team, possibly a commission of inquiry.
The Higher Education Amendment Bill was listed in the Announcements, Tablings and Committee Reports – or Parliament’s record of work – published on Friday. It was referred by Speaker Baleka Mbete to the higher education committees of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces.
The draft law proposes, among others, that the minister may determine “transformation goals” and institute “appropriate oversight mechanisms”, and may under specific circumstances withhold funding.
It broadens existing ministerial powers to appoint administrators and allows for discretionary circumstances in which to intervene.
On Sunday, DA MP and higher education spokeswoman Professor Belinda Bozzoli said she would write to Nzimande asking him to withdraw the Bill and “focus his attention on finding R30 billion a year for the next five years – something he should have been doing since he took the job of minister”.
The draft Bill comes before Parliament as a report is expected at month’s end from the presidential task team, looking not only at higher education funding but broader issues such as transformation.
The terms of the task team, established last month after President Jacob Zuma met university vice-chancellors and chairpersons of the council, were extended after the Union Buildings meeting between the president, university managers and student organisations on October 23, amid the #FeesMustFall demonstrations.
Zuma has also mooted a possible commission of inquiry into higher education.
Throughout last month’s #FeesMustFall student protests, Nzimande raised the issue of university autonomy, saying his office was not the first port of call because universities were autonomous.
The Higher Education Amendment Bill is not a surprise because Nzimande announced the draft law in his May Budget speech “to strike an appropriate balance between institutional autonomy and public accountability of universities”.
At the time, the minister also announced work towards a new national post-school education and training plan to consolidate various programmes under one integrated framework by March 2017.
It remains unclear when the Higher Education Amendment Bill was approved by the cabinet. It is not mentioned in the past four cabinet statements posted on the Government Communication and Information System website.
The Bill, however, was submitted to Parliament’s higher education committees under joint Rule 159.
It stipulates a cabinet minister or deputy minister must, as soon as the draft Bill is approved by the cabinet, determine “whether or not the draft has been legally or technically formalised” alongside a memorandum explaining its aims.
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