In future, students studying skills that will enable them to operate in the fourth industrial revolution are more likely to get funding
Students wishing to study humanities are in danger of losing out on financial support in future.
That’s if the country decides to follow Russia’s model to guarantee jobs for beneficiaries.
In future, funding for beneficiaries of fee-free higher education could be based on the skills needed to boost the economy.
If things go as planned, government, in partnership with the private sector, would identify skills required and then fund spaces at 26 public universities and 50 public colleges in the country.
These could include high technological skills to meet the demands of the fourth industrial revolution and funding might not be allocated for students wishing to study humanities.
This is a template that the oversight committee on higher education endorsed after its recent fact-finding visit to Russia.
For this to work, the committee recommended that the higher education and training department probe the viability of its universities and colleges exploring specialised niche areas to address skills deficits for various sectors at local, provincial and national level, and confer with the basic education department to form strategies to increase graduate output in science, technology, engineering and maths-related programmes.
Part of the committee’s observations during the study tour in September was that fee-free higher education in Russia was also extended to private colleges and recommended the higher education and training department conduct a feasibility study on this.
In addition, as part of its recommendations – contained in the December report and seen by City Press – the committee wants a “patriotic culture” to be instilled in graduates, meaning beneficiaries would use their skills to help grow the country’s economy.
Beneficiaries now are not expected to repay the money but are rather required to do voluntary community work, remain in the country and participate in the economy in whichever way is most opportune for them for at least the number of years they were funded.
Those who wished to emigrate within this time frame were required to pay back the funds before they left the country.
The report said, unlike South Africa, in Russia beneficiaries were guaranteed jobs, which added to the country’s economy.
When a beneficiary received government funding and a company had committed to offer the graduate a job, the company entered into a contract with the student.
If the company reneged, it would have to pay three months’ salary to the graduate and pay back the fees incurred during the graduate’s education.
If the opposite happened, the graduate would have to pay back all expenses incurred during studies.
The report said Russia’s higher education ministry had experts from the business sector, community professionals, researchers, methodologists and NGOs who worked closely with industry and helped develop the curriculum for universities.
The allocation of funding to universities was also based on merit and the contribution of each institution to the government’s development priorities.
Last Wednesday committee chairperson Cornelia September told City Press the report was adopted unanimously by members and would now go to the National Assembly for ratification.
If adopted, the resolution would be forwarded to the higher education and training department for implementation.
September said the tour to Russia was undertaken as part of the committee’s work.
She said education in Russia was highly valued.
“Participation and completion rates in general education are high,” she said. “Youth literacy is universal and has held steady at 99.7%.”
September said Russia was strong in producing engineers, scientists and mathematicians.
South Africa’s National Development Plan included a commitment from government – through its universities – to increase graduate numbers in these areas.
She said South Africa shared a lot of commonalities with Russia’s higher education system, in particular the funding of higher education.
“Though the percentage of Russian government funding to universities is higher than in South Africa, universities are still required to raise funds and collect tuition fees from students,” September said.
The tour to Russia was a result of a mid-term review workshop held in 2016 to assess progress made by the committee in the implementation of its 2015 to 2019 strategic plan, which dealt with matters affecting higher education and job creation.
An estimated 45% of students in Russian receive fee-free higher education.
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