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 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.