National Assembly: Cape Town, 26th May 2011
South African higher education today faces many
unprecedented challenges, which have been with us since 1994.
Despite ever increasing funding, innovation and government
participation, our academic institutions continue to face critical
problems and obstacles in providing the education, research and
service that would translate into desirable levels of skills
development and future employment.
There is a consensus - and we readily share in it
- that if South Africa is to succeed economically, culturally, and
politically it must develop and maintain strong academic
institutions. As a result, demand for access to higher education is
growing, straining the resources of higher education institutions.
The biggest crisis facing our higher education system remains
Since 1994, the government's focus in redressing
of the imbalances of the past has been on support for the provision
of non-academic activities and facilities, such as free financial
aid, allowances, and subsidised accommodation and catering for
disadvantaged students. These interventions have enabled increasing
numbers of students to study at our universities.
But, at the same time, such support consumes major
portions of university budgets, which consequently undermine the
purpose of a higher learning institution.
The question then is: how does one ensure that
quality education is accessible at the highest level to all? The IFP
believes that we now need a multi-pronged approach in which
strategies that concentrate on solving the financial obstacles and
how we teach at higher education institutions are addressed
Some experts have proposed enhancement of access
to loan schemes. Financial institutions, especially those that show
competency to collect debt, should be encouraged to enter this
market and alleviate the burden on the state. In addition, National
Student Financial Aid Scheme of South Africa (NSFAS) is in urgent
need of restructuring and capacity enhancement if it is to deliver
on its mandate.
According to Prof Sipho Pityana, former chairman
of NSFAS, a key intervention that could fix the problems we face
could come through considering the establishment of a higher
education admission central clearing house, as in other countries,
so that criteria are uniform. The IFP supports this view. It would
enable the state to determine which students have academic potential
and therefore qualify for financial support. Such a clearing house
should be given resources to provide career advice and other related
infrastructure to help students make informed choices about their
course of study.
Prof Pityana believes that it will enable
universities to refer those students who do not qualify for
admission at higher education institutions to either Further
Education and Training (FET) colleges or programmes sponsored by the
National Skills Fund or Sector Education and Training Authorities
(Setas). This would ensure that limited funds are directed to where
there is greatest potential for positive results, rather than
throwing money at the problem. Money currently wasted on students
with no potential to succeed would be saved.
We also need to look at how tertiary education is
structured. The preparation of students for higher education starts
at senior school level, but one cannot overlook the capacity
constraints, particularly in ill-resourced black schools, that
result in poorly prepared pupils with tremendous potential. This
clearly points to a need to introduce a four-year degree programme.
Some institutions already have four-year degrees, but there is still
a lack of programmes designed to help students to cope better, which
often greatly benefit students.
Speaker, it is unfortunate that the issues of
social transformation and skills development are often debated and
tackled separately in the context of higher education. A quality
education system is critical to developing both responsible
citizenry and an adaptive workforce that is adequately prepared for
the demands of the workplace. It ensures that people have access,
hope and aspirations to a collective future.
The IFP believe passionately that a strong,
vibrant and thriving economy that starts with the revival of
excellence in higher education, training and skills development both
in formal and informal sectors is needed for our democracy to
flourish and our social transformation to succeed.
Education represents a way out of deprivation and
poverty. Education turns dreams into reality. The IFP stands behind
those who seek one common vision:
a higher education system that works tirelessly to
ensure that South Africa's young talent emerges. In this, our
institutions of higher learning and the Department of Higher
Education must lead the way.
The IFP supports this budget.
I thank you.