How funding for university students has dwindled in South Africa

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has pointed to three ways in which the government can defuse the current university fees ‘crisis’.

On Wednesday, a number of the country’s leading institutions remained closed as students engage in protest action at their respective universities, standing against proposed increases in fees for next year.

Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande, on Tuesday, proposed a reduced fee increase, to 6%, from double digits, which was rejected by student representatives, who want zero percent, with many calling for education to be free.

South Africa has one of the highest rates of public investment in private and public education in the world, at around 7% of GDP, or 20% of total state expenditure, according to a number of reports.

In most top tertiary institutions, government grants account for more than a third of total budget. Universities rely heavily on the government’s purse to survive.

DA lead, Mmusi Maimane noted however, that over the past 20 years university enrollment has more than doubled while funding per student head has declined from R20,187 in 1994 to R16,764 in 2014.

“Over the same period university fees have escalated at a pace far above inflation. Qualifying students are being left without the means to afford an education and the opportunity to work towards a future they value,” Maimane said.

In January BusinessTech published an article highlighting what it costs to attend a top tertiary institution in SA.

University BA BCom >BSc LLB BEng
University of Cape Town R43,500 – R59,000 R50,000 – R62,500 R51,000 – R64,500 R46,500 – R52,000 R51,500 – R53,000
University of the Witwatersrand R33,640 – R43,320 R42,010 – R43,320 R41,080 – R58,580 R32,470 R40,170 – R48,150
Stellenbosch University R32,534 R33,164 – R46,338 R37,880 – R40,749 R39,606 R45,070
University of KwaZulu Natal R38,160 – R46,700 R39,170 R30,940 – R39,600 R36,500 R39,150 – R40,000
University of Pretoria R25,710 – R36,270 R34,720 – R39,610 R36,880 – R54,620 R31,800 R35,530 – R43,670
Rhodes University R37,200 R40,700 R38,700 – R40,700 R41,730 n/a
University of Johannesburg R29,170 – R35,970 R29,140 – R37,000 R30,600 – R50,940 R29,460 – R33,840 R34,500 – R42,600
North-West University R28,140 – R49,200 R38,600 – R41,050 R38,400 – R44,650 R36,500 R43,900

“This is very much a crisis and it is of the government’s making,” Maimane said of the protest action affecting the country’s learning institutions.

“Wasteful expenditure and corruption in government diverts funds away from education. In 2011, the then-head of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) and Assets Forfeiture Unit, Willie Hofmeyer, told Parliament that between R25 and R30 billion per year is lost to corruption in the state tender system alone.

“Meanwhile universities are being forced to increase their fees in order to compensate for a decrease in government funding while the NSFAS shortfall of R51 billion has left half of qualifying students without access to funding. Corruption and wasteful expenditure kills opportunity.” the DA lead said.

The DA said it had identified a number of areas where significant savings could be made to enable additional funding to be directed to students and universities:

  • Reduce bailouts to failing state owned enterprises (SOEs). SAA bailouts alone have cost SA R30 billion since 1999, with a R6.5 billion bailout announced earlier this year while in last financial year, PetroSA, PRASA and SANRAL accumulated losses of R17 billion between them.
  • Abandon the R1 trillion nuclear deal and earmark additional funding for education opportunities instead.
  • Reduce the bloated public sector wage bill, projected to grow to R 437 billion in the 2015/2016 financial year. A mere 1% saving would unlock an additional R4.3 billion for education.

“The DA believes that all qualifying students should be empowered with the means to study,” Maimane said.

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How funding for university students has dwindled in South Africa