University grants climb 144% over 10-year period

Stellenbosch University. (Photo: Stellenbosch University)
Stellenbosch University. (Photo: Stellenbosch University)

Cape Town – Government grants to higher education institutions – including 20 universities and six universities of technology – increased by 144% over the last decade from 2006 to 2015, according to information released by Statistics South Africa. 

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan when delivering his medium-term budget policy statement for 2016 said it’s not as if government was “doing nothing” to fund universities. “You just have to look at the amounts in subsidies and grants.” 

READ: Two options for funding higher education 

Gordhan delivered his medium-term budget speech on Wednesday while students were protesting outside the gates of Parliament. He had met with the protesting students some twenty minutes before delivering the mid term budget. 

The finance minister said an extra R17.6bn is needed over the next three years to fund South Africa’s higher education system. 

University subsidies will grow at an annual average rate of 10.9% over the next three years, while allocations to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas) will be increased at 18.5% providing support to under-funded university students.

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande earlier said at a press conference at Parliament that government will start allocating more money to vocational training institutions as these places of learning are important for the country that requires mid-level skills that are taught at these colleges. 

Vocational colleges will receive R6.9bn this year, while more than R8bn will be needed to fund the frozen fee increment for students from households earning up to R600 000 – the so-called missing middle.

READ: R17bn needed over 3 years to fund higher education - Gordhan 

Data released by Statistics SA a day before Gordhan’s budget speech showed that grants from national government to universities have increased from R8.8bn in 2006 to R22.4bn in 2015. During the same period, grants to universities of technology increased from R2.2bn to R4.9bn in 2014, before declining slightly to R4.4bn in 2015. 

Altogether 985 212 students were enrolled in higher education institutions in 2015 of which 171 930 (17%) were first-year students. 

Unisa had the most student enrolments by far, totalling 337 944, followed by North West University with 64 070 students. Over the past decade, though, North West University has seen the biggest increase in student numbers, with a 65.5% increase, followed by Zululand University with a 59.5% increase in student numbers. 

The total number of students entering higher education systems across South Africa has increased by close to 33% in the past decade, Statistics SA’s figures showed. 

The numbers for 2015 also showed that: 

- higher education institutions received R21.bn in the form of tuition fees; 

- tuition fees were 34.1% as a percentage of higher education institutions’ total income; and 

- these institutions received a total amount of R26.8bn in the form of grants. 

Donations to universities totalled R4bn in 2015 with Stellenbosch University receiving the biggest amount – R1.12bn – in donations. The University of KwaZulu-Natal received the second biggest amount at R972m, with the University of Cape Town (UCT) in third place receiving 449m in donor funding.

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