Higher Education Budget Vote
Remarks by Mr JH Van Der Merwe (IFP Chief Whip)
On Behalf of Mr Alfred Mpontshane MP

 

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 financial limitations.   

 

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 immediately.  

 

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.