Covid-19: Higher education academic year likely to end in March 2021, says Nzimande

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Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande.
Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande.
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  • The Department of Higher Education, Science and Technology's budget is cut by almost R10 billion.
  • The current academic year may only end in March 2021.
  • The DA, EFF and FF Plus do not support the budget.

The academic year in the higher education sector will probably only end in March next year, Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology Blade Nzimande said.

He also told the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) on Tuesday that his department's budget will be cut with just shy of R10 billion.

"The final Special Adjustments Budget cut for the department for 2020/21 amounts to R9.857 billion," Nzimande told MPs in the virtual sitting of the NCOP.

He said the total suspension of funds amounts to R6.734 billion, of which R4.999 billion is reallocated for reprioritising expenditure towards Covid-19 activities, while the net suspension amounts to R1.734 billion for normal voted funds.

READ | Blade's plans to save the academic year 

The adjustments budget also provides for the reduced collection of skills levies to the amount of R8.122 billion.

This means the department's original allocation for 2020/21 reduces from R116.857 billion to R107.000 billion, which represents a reduction of 8%.

"It is clear the 2020 academic year is not going to finish in 2020," he said, adding it is expected to finish in March, which will add to the costs.

Opposition MPs were not impressed with the budget cuts.

Plundering

DA MP Delmaine Christians said higher education should be the frontline department and the DA is "deeply concerned" about the cut and the "plundering" of higher education.

The EFF's Lindile Luthuli said the adjusted budget does not appreciate the critical moment South Africa currently finds itself in.

"It shows no imagination and does not consider the needs of the black child," she said.

READ | Schools reopening: Union threatens to shut down schools

FF Plus MP Armand Cloete said only time will tell what the impact on higher education will be.

He said Nzimande should take responsibility for the "ghost students" and the R100 million for an inadequate computer system at the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

DA MP Cathlene Labuschagne said the budget should be an investment in South Africa's future, but the government seems more interested in getting bailouts for SAA, showing "cadre deployment is its highest priority".

She said the irony is President Cyril Ramaphosa and the National Coronavirus Command Council are relying on scientists, but with this budget, there might not be any scientists to advise in the future.

Deputy Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology Buti Manamela dismissed the opposition's criticism as coming from a "point of privilege or the comfortable position of opposition".  

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