Cape Town – Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has been added to the ministerial task team on higher education, more than a week after it was established by President Jacob Zuma.
Gordhan, Communications Minister Faith Muthambi, Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini were added to "broaden the composition of the task team", Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe said on Thursday.
Zuma established the task team in October to address the situation at institutions of higher learning where students have been protesting over fees.
Gordhan and the ministers were added due to "issues that arose" during the first meeting of the task team, Radebe said during a press conference.
After the first meeting with various stakeholders and the task team reported back to the president and Cabinet, Zuma decided to broaden the composition of the task team to include Gordhan, Radebe said.
Even before Gordhan was included, Radebe said, they had interacted regarding universities.
Efforts to salvage academic year
In the first meeting, issues pertaining to options for the funding of higher education were raised, he said.
"His [Gordhan] not being on the task team does not mean that he was not part of this effort. Because the issue of education is everybody's responsibility," he said.
Cabinet reiterated its call for the country to support efforts to salvage what was left of the 2016 academic year.
"Cabinet shares the sentiments expressed by students with regards to the challenges they face on high costs of tuition fees, accommodation, textbooks, transport and living expenses," he said.
The consequences of a lost academic year were dire, Radebe said.
"If the year is lost, the universities and colleges do not reach a finality this year, almost a million matriculants will not be admitted into higher education, in 2017. The ripple effect is such that all students from first year to final year would be affected and ultimately our economy as no new skilled graduates will enter the job market."
He said government had received several proposals that had been put forward by various constituencies and stakeholders.
He called for all stakeholders to work towards creating conditions and "a conducive climate for the academic programme to resume without delay".
He repeated government's efforts to supplement the fee increases of 2017, as well as their efforts to help the "missing middle".
"To ensure the progressive realisation of the right to further education, government will develop a roadmap working with relevant stakeholders for the transformation of universities and TVET colleges to create opportunities for access, success, financing and support for students and institutions."
They were concerned about the outbreak of violent student protests in some campuses around the country, Radebe said.