Varsities set to transform faster
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Durban - Accelerating the pace of transformation within universities, pumping more money into historically disadvantaged institutions, and fixing the state of training colleges is how Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande will be spending his R41.8-billion budget this year.
In the face of perpetual student funding protests, Nzimande has only 7.3% more to spend in this financial year than the last.
The National Student Financial Aid Scheme will in the 2015/16 financial year provide R9.5bn worth of loans and bursaries for 205 000 university students and 200 000 technical and vocational education training colleges.
An investigation into corrupt activities at the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) will start at the end of May, Nzimande said.
“Sadly, we have found evidence of corruption in the application of NSFAS loans and bursaries within the system. By the end of May 2015, a forensic investigation will have commenced to determine the depth of corrupt practices in the administration of NSFAS.”
In recent months, there had been protests by students over NSFAS funding at various tertiary institutions. The government scheme was accused of paying fees late and excluding the majority of students who were poor.
Nzimande said NFSAS budget from his department comprised of R4.094 billion for university study loans, R2.205 billion for technical and vocational training college bursaries, and R148.878 million for administration costs.
“This is supplemented by recovered funds and donor allocations, which further increases the total budget of NSFAS to R9.5 billion for the allocation of 205 000 university student loans and bursaries, and 200 000 TVET college bursaries,” he said.
Last year, NSFAS provided student loans and bursaries totalling over R8.3 billion.
Since its inception, the scheme has benefited 1.5 million impoverished students, but cannot meet the demand.
Nzimande began his budget speech in the National Assembly on Wednesday by listing the gains made in higher education, including the narrowing of the first-year drop-out rate from 25% in 2005, to 19% in 2012.
He then moved on to a subject that has dominated the public discourse this year: transformation within universities.
“Despite the significance of symbols such as names and statues, we must not conflate these with more fundamental matters of transformation.
“An urgent need to radically change the demographics of our professoriate, transform the curriculum and research agendas, cultivate greater awareness of Africa, eliminate racism, sexism and all other forms of unjust discrimination, improve academic success rates, and expand student support,” Nzimande said.
He cautioned that he would this year pay close attention to “accelerated transformation” within universities, which included setting concrete targets and measuring transformation against certain indicators.
He asked the portfolio committee on higher education, and his transformation oversight committee, to assist him with this task.
The committee, established in 2012, is chaired by former University of KwaZulu-Natal vice-chancellor Malegapuru Makgoba.
The number of students enrolled at South Africa’s universities is expected to reach 1.1 million by 2019. The National Development Plan has set the 2030 target at 1.6 million students.
Nzimande acknowledged that some of the country’s historically disadvantaged institutions were performing “substantially below par”.
On the recommendation of a committee that Nzimande set up to review the government’s funding of universities, he was to implement a grant for the development of such institutions, which would disburse R2.050bn over the next five years.
Turning to training colleges, Nzimande told MPs that enrolment had more than doubled over the past five years, and the target for this year had been set at 725 000 students.
But his department’s focus would now shift to improving the state of training colleges, which had been beset by problems including under-qualified lecturers, inferior standards, and mismanagement and corruption.
The eventual introduction of a Grade 9 school-leaving certificate would mean that even more young people would depend on training colleges to deliver a high standard of education.
In October this year, an online registration system for students seeking work-based learning opportunities and employers wanting to provide those training opportunities, would go live, Nzimande announced.
The Mercury and ANA