The Minister of Higher Education and Training, Minister Blade Nzimande on Tuesday, said that investment in infrastructure is critical to ensuring quality teaching.
Tabling his department’s budget vote in parliament on Tuesday, Nzimande put emphasis on the need for infrastructure and investments in South Africa as a means to add to the success and quality of higher education and training.
He said that the boost in infrastructure investments will ensure the quality of teaching, learning, and researching spaces, equipment and teaching resources, and conducive student living and learning environments.
Over the given period in his speech which is 2016/17 and 2017/18, his department would have injected new investments of R6.964 billion for the development of infrastructure at universities.
“R2.1 billion will be for student housing development, R1.475 billion will go to universities to refurbish and update current infrastructure and to deal with backlog maintenance, R2 billion is for building Sol Plaatje University and the University of Mpumalanga, R600 million is earmarked for Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University to enable its development as a new university,” he said.
“R248.9 million is for infrastructure projects at Historically Disadvantaged Institutions linked to their individual development plans, and R300 million is for priority projects to be identified by universities, and which may include improving disability access, well-founded laboratories, security upgrades or infrastructure and communication technology developments.”
The infrastructure investments ties into the housing needed to accommodate students, therefore the department’s student housing infrastructure programme (SHIP) one of the biggest priorities.
Approximately 200,000 beds are needed for universities alone as well as accommodation for TVET colleges. According to the Minister steady progress is being made in their joint work with the Department of Public Works in search for government buildings that are not currently being used to be converted into student accommodation.
“Given the large shortages in this area, our universities and colleges will still have to rely on privately owned student accommodation facilities. I, however, intend undertaking research to establish ownership patterns in this sector in order to ensure that there is meaningful participation by all South Africans, especially black African owners and participation of youth and women, including co-operatives,” Nzimande said.
Despite these shortages, the government is continuing to fund the publicly owned student housing.
“At the new Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University in GaRankuwa, we have for instance allocated R1.2 billion over the next four years for infrastructure development. Part of this funding will provide decent housing for the students,” he added
His department, however, has already started with providing their first 2 000 beds and from next year students that are travelling 50 kilometres to accommodation in the Pretoria CBD, will be housed on campus.
Nzimande encouraged by smooth start to 2017 academic year
Nzimande also said was encouraged by the relatively smooth start of the 2017 academic year compared to the turbulent 2016 academic year.
The tabling of the budget vote comes shortly after the World Economic Forum on Africa whose key theme was the fourth Industrial Revolution. Nzimande acknowledged that although the theme presents both a big opportunity and a threat to African continental development, it has left room for him to ponder on the kind of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges the country needs.
He said that one of the biggest challenges for parliament is the need to build financial resources to build a vibrant TVET college sector that is capable of absorbing millions of the countries unemployed youth and equipping them with the needed skills to strengthen the economy.
“In fact, failure to adequately resource our TVET colleges may as well be the single biggest undoing in growing and developing an inclusive economy in our country,” he said.
He also made it clear that his department was waiting for the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training that is currently looking into the feasibility of fee-free higher education and training for the poor and working class.
Since the establishment of the Tertiary Education Fund of South Africa (TEFSA), the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has awarded students around R72 billion in loans and bursaries.
Nzimande commended NSFAS for their significant work in not only supporting 123 332 TVET college students this year but also supporting 194 353 university students, covering 78 413 students for first entrance and 115 940 returning students.
Despite the additional amounts that have been poured into NSFAS there still seems to be insufficient funding to support students who meet the academic requirements at universities.
University education, however, has had calls for decolonisation in universities and this requires a new kind of academic, therefore a University Capacity Development Program (UCDP) will be implemented in the beginning of 2018 academic year that will priorities historically disadvantaged universities.
The new program will allocate R900 million in the first year that will increase nominally in the coming years. A Ministerial Task Team will also be put in place to investigate the obstacles to the production of black South African academics as 83 percent of all university professors are still white in our countries 23-years of democracy.
The department has committed to dealing with the challenges faced by historically disadvantaged institutions (HDIs) and ensuring that all universities are in a position to deliver quality education.
“We have established the Historically Disadvantaged Institutions Development Grant (HDI-DG) whose overall purpose is to enable HDIs to develop themselves towards fully realising their potential as universities. Funding of approximately R2.5 billion over a five-year period has been earmarked for this programme. After five years, the impact of the funding will be assessed,” he said.
“I also would like to categorically state that there is absolutely no intention to privatise or hand over NSFAS to the banks. For as long as I am Minister no such thing will happen, contrary to some rumours in this regard. I call upon all stakeholders to engage meaningfully with the discussion document.”
– African News Agency (ANA)