Higher education in a 'state of emergency' - DA

2016-08-29 22:16
The University of Cape Town's upper campus. (iStock)

The University of Cape Town's upper campus. (iStock)

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Cape Town – The DA on Monday proposed a plan to rescue South African universities from the "state of emergency" over fees threatening them.

Government had to return to contributing 50% of the sector's required funds, DA shadow education minister Belinda Bozzoli told journalists at Parliament.

Universities were funded by the state, student fees and the private sector.

“Since 1994, state funding has decreased from 50% to 40%. Private contributions have stayed relatively stable around 30%, so it doesn't take much to see who has to cover the shortfall.”

Last week, Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande named 16 universities facing "financial distress" if a 0% fee increase was implemented for the second consecutive year, News24 reported.

A further eight would still be at risk if a 6% increase was granted.

Bozzoli said student fees made up 31% of universities’ funding in 2016, an 11% increase since 1994. Universities were taking on more students while funding was decreasing.

The country currently spent approximately 0.71% of GDP on higher education. Bozzoli said the figure should be closer to 2%, to be comparable to successful regimes in China, Finland, Malaysia, and Ghana.

'Treasury needs to intervene'

The DA had submitted its proposal to the Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training. President Zuma established it last October, following the Fees Must Fall protests, to investigate the possibility of free higher education.

It proposed that:

- Universities accept fewer students and focus on quality graduates;

- Poorest students get comprehensive financial support;

- The “missing middle” should receive support proportional to their family's income;

- “Better-off” students should not receive government funding and;

-Government increases its subsidies from 40% to 50%.

The party said National Student Financial Aid Scheme structures should be reformed. Rather than offering full support to any student with an annual family income below R120 000, stretching resources, there should be three tiers.

Students with family income below R150 000 should be eligible for full cost of study, including accommodation.

Students of families earning between R150 000 and R350 000 should get 66% of study fees.

Those in the R350 000 to R500 000 bracket would get 33% of their study fees paid.

The proposal would still require R20bn more, which was still a better option than the unrealistic R60bn needed for complete free higher education, Bozzoli said.

'Who decides which students don't get in?'

Asked about a reduction in enrolments, Bozzoli said these were already slowing down. The department had addressed the matter over the years and it was not a problem.

“Just don't push another 500 000 students into the system without the funding being finalised, because that leads to other problems like high failure rates,” she said.

Bozzoli said state research showed that 50% of students who enrolled in a first-year university course did not complete their degrees.

Universities were already selecting students based on a set of requirements.

“We're not saying a whole new system for turning away students is needed.”

Nzimande told MPs in Parliament last week that he would make his funding plans available to the public when they were ready.


Read more on:    da  |  cape town  |  parliament 2016  |  university protests  |  education  |  fees must fall

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