Cape Town – The 6% university fee cap proposal announced by Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande is a short-term measure that will allow time for a sustainable solution to be found in the long-term.
That is according to Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene, speaking during a press conference ahead of his mini budget speech in parliament on Wednesday.
Nene said he attended a cabinet meeting on Wednesday morning, where he engaged with Nzimande on the situation.
Protesting students from the African National Congress, the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters united as they marched past parliament hours before the delivery of Nene’s speech as part of a nationwide protest.
Nene told parliament that the student fee protest reminded government “of the challenges of financing the expansion of further education and university opportunities”.
“(The) disruption of learning is not constructive,” he said. “But Minister Nzimande has rightly indicated the need to strengthen student financing further and to find solutions where current arrangements are inadequate.”
Nene told media that an inter-governmental committee as well as Treasury are exploring a long-term sustainable solution to the issue around fee increases. “We hope we will find a lasting solution to this problem,” he said.
“We have grown investment in this space, almost trebling it over a very short period of time. We accept that challenges remain, but we need to find a sustainable way of funding educating," said Nene.
“The current solution will hopefully stabilise the current crisis, but we need a long-term solution,” he said.
Nene said a negotiated settlement is required and that the students' demand for a 0% increase will have to change.
“Like the wage bill, a negotiated settlement is a process of give and take,” he said. “There is always a possibility that a settlement is not satisfactory to both parties.”
After experiencing strong growth in the last five years, expenditure on post-school education and training will keep pace with inflation in the years ahead, the Treasury’s mini budget released on Wednesday explained.
“An interdepartmental team is working out the financial implications of the white paper on post-school education, and how the expected expansion of enrolments can be funded,” it said. “Proposals will be available for consideration by cabinet in 2016.”
Spending on education, health and social protection remains a priority for government. However, the higher-than-expected 2015 public sector wage settlement has made it necessary to shift funds and absorb the increased cost within budget baselines.
Post-school education and training will account for R63.7bn of the revised 2015/2016 budget, which does not take into account the recent proposed deal made by Nzimande.
Proposed medium-term budget allocations include R11bn in tertiary education capital projects.
Creating work and improving education to eliminate poverty and build a more equitable society are at the heart of the long-term reforms set out in the National Development Plan.