The Democratic Alliance (DA) says it has begun the process to amend the national budget in order to fund the R2.7 billion shortfall in higher education funding.
It follows an announcement by President Jacob Zuma, on Friday, that there would be no fee increases in universities for 2016.
The shortfall in university income for 2016 is estimated to be in the region of R3 billion.
On Sunday, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande told broadcaster eNCA, that the financial impact of the 0% fee increase for university fees for 2016 is still being calculated.
“At one level we are victims of our own successes as the ANC government because the university sector has really grown, it has doubled since 1994 and it’s now majority black and majority women,” he said.
He was asked whether his department was not guilty of contributing to the funding crisis universities were facing.
He acknowledged there had been a decline in government funding to universities. This was because the system had been growing faster than the “core money” government was contributing.
The country could afford free education, but Nzimande said the money to fund it was in the private sector. It would cost R37 billion over the next 3 years, in addition to the R9.5 billion in the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.
Responding to criticism that the government had shown no willingness to translate its 2012 Mangaung conference resolution on free education into reality, Nzimande said there was not enough money in the public sector.
“The fiscus has been stretched and my own view is that we should look at all these proposals being made to get more money, whether you use the wealth tax, or you raise the skills levies, but it’s very clear that money will also have to be gotten from the private sector, because they are the principal beneficiaries from the graduates that we produce from our universities.”
The DA said on Sunday, that the ANC government had an opportunity to address the funding crisis in the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS), delivered by the Minister of Finance in Parliament just 48 hours before the President’s decision to place a moratorium on fee increases.
It is against this backdrop, the DA said, that it has begun the process of amending the budget through Parliament’s Standing Committee on Appropriations.
A letter, addressed to the chairperson of the committee, indicated that the DA intends to amend the budget, and requests the Committee to take the following steps:
- To solicit the assistance of the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) in amending the relevant legislation, including the exact amount required to fund the shortfall, and the most appropriate areas in which this revenue can be found;
- For the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training to be invited to brief the Committee on the scope and extent of the funding crisis in higher education, as well as its Budget Review and Recommendation Report (BRRR); and
- For the Parliamentary Legal Adviser to provide advice on the process that must be followed as to avoid procedural error.
“There is no doubt that the funding will not be found in the Department of Higher Education and Training’s (DHET) University budget,” the DA said, noting its tight budget.
On Friday, the ANC said in a statement that free education was and remains a central component of it’s policy framework. “We have however always known that it’s attainment would not be without its challenges and limitations. Fundamental and radical transformation of society and the dismantling of exclusive privilege, as envisaged by the ANC with the commitment to deliver free education, is neither an easy nor an uncontested process.”
It applauded the youth ‘for uncompromisingly bringing this issue to the fore and sending a strong message that transformation can no longer be delayed’.
“The ANC government is a listening government. While much has been done to progressively realise free education, we accept that the pace of transformation, coupled with the structural and systematic impediments in our higher education system, has been unsatisfactory.”
The party said it celebrated ‘the victory of the disciplined and gallant campaign waged by students’.
It warned however, that the campaign for accessible education is far from over. “The ANC reiterates our call to all social partners to build on the momentum of this campaign and bring closer the realisation of free education at all levels. Many of our institutions of higher learning remain untransformed with exclusionary practices still entrenched as part of the fabric of the institution.”
The DA meanwhile, said it has made several proposals as to where the funds can be found, which amounts to R3.8 billion, including:
- R2 billion from the sale of government’s stake in Vodacom, currently allocated to the BRICS bank.
- R720 million allocated to the Department of International Relations and Cooperation to offset the impact of the depreciation of the rand on foreign missions.
- An additional R69.7 million allocated to VIP Protection Services in the MTBPS.
- R67 million allocated immediately for the preparatory work on the planned nuclear build, which the DA maintains should be abandoned.
- R1 billion from the skills levy surplus.
“It appears that the ANC has no idea on how to find short-term funds for the beleaguered and neglected Higher Education system,” said Belinda Bozzoli, DA shadow minister of Higher Education and Training.
The DA urged the ANC to back the party on what it called an ‘important matter for both students and universities’.
“In the end, money must be found within the existing budget for a 0% increase, otherwise what should be a relief for students, will result in cuts at universities. This will be equally bad for students, and for innovative research which our economy so desperately needs,” Bozzoli said.
Reporting with News24