Fees commission must not forget postgrad studies - NRF

2016-09-05 17:32
Dr Molapo Qhobela (NRF)

Dr Molapo Qhobela (NRF)

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Cape Town – The fees commission must not overlook postgraduate students and researchers when probing the feasibility of fee-free tertiary education, the National Research Foundation (NRF) said on Monday.

Its CEO Dr Molapo Qhobela told the commission in Cape Town that any policy, planning or funding decisions in the sector must enhance research excellence and produce new knowledge.

“If we are only looking at one part of the system, then we will find ourselves in a bit of a pickle,” he said.

“If you want a knowledge economy, and to move from merely digging minerals and sending them off to add value, we do need to invest in knowledge.”

He said the National Development Plan (NDP) had challenging and ambitious targets.

The NDP envisaged more than 5 000 doctoral graduates per year by 2030 (it is currently around 2 000 per year).

It also envisaged that over a quarter of university enrolments should be postgraduate (currently 16%). 

The Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training was established following the Fees Must Fall protests, which demanded that there be a 0% fee increase.

The first set of hearings was for the commission to receive an overview of the relevant issues from various organisations.

As an independent government body, the NRF funded 10% of all postgraduate students in the country.

It also provided grants for university researchers and large infrastructure equipment.

Funding under pressure

“The most important criteria is excellence. We support people who really want to push the boundaries of knowledge,” said Qhobela.

He said their funding was under pressure.

They had to factor in inflation, foreign currency concerns for research equipment and a set allocation by government.

“The need is big. We fund 10% because that is what we can fund. It is not by design.”

Most of the questions by the commission and evidence leaders focused on transformation.

Qhobela admitted that their funding predominantly went to those institutions that were historically supported to pursue research.

This did not mean that previously disadvantaged universities did not receive funding.

“If historically you were not expected to pursue a research mandate, you are on a building curve,” he said.

He was also asked whether the NSF had a funding mechanism for poor students.

Qhobela replied that they did not presently have one in a systemic way.

But they were not oblivious of financial need.

“Of our 10 000 students, about 1 000 come through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.”

He recommended that funding decisions for postgraduates, as with undergraduates, should consider different socio-economic circumstances but still be sustainable for universities.

Read more on:    nrf  |  cape town  |  education  |  student fees

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