Against the fees com­mis­sion’s ad­vice, the pres­i­dent is bent on redi­rect­ing state funds to find R40bn for stu­dents

CityPress - - Front Page - HLENGIWE NHLABATHI and SETUMO STONE news@city­press.co.za

Ana­tional in­sti­tute, en­trusted with pro­duc­ing more black pro­fes­sors, has be­come the first ca­su­alty of Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s plans to raise funds for his much-awaited plan for free higher ed­u­ca­tion next year. This is part of a wide-scale re­di­rect­ion of state funds from across de­part­ments to find R40 bil­lion for stu­dent fund­ing for one year.

A let­ter ad­dressed to the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Na­tional In­sti­tute for the Hu­man­i­ties and So­cial Sciences (NIHSS), which City Press has seen, shows that the or­gan­i­sa­tion that co­or­di­nates schol­ar­ships, re­search and ethical prac­tice in the so­cial sciences field has had its bud­get cut by R35.6 mil­lion.

This means that while the money could be di­verted to fund Zuma’s free higher ed­u­ca­tion plan, many other doc­toral stu­dents who rely on the in­sti­tute will lose their schol­ar­ships.

Although City Press has pub­lished the con­tents of the He­her Com­mis­sion re­port on the fea­si­bil­ity of no-fee higher ed­u­ca­tion,

Zuma is yet to pub­licly re­lease its find­ings and an­nounce a course of ac­tion.

In his ad­dress to the Na­tional Coun­cil of Prov­inces on Thurs­day, Zuma said the He­her re­port was “un­der con­sid­er­a­tion” and would be re­leased as soon as it was fi­nalised.

“The In­ter­min­is­te­rial Com­mit­tee for Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Fund­ing and the Pres­i­den­tial Fis­cal Com­mit­tee are as­sist­ing the pres­i­dent to process the re­port,” he said.

The main find­ing of the He­her re­port was that free ed­u­ca­tion was not fea­si­ble. In­stead, the re­port pro­posed an in­come-con­tin­gent loan fund­ing sys­tem.

But Zuma is de­ter­mined to an­nounce no fees for stu­dents, even if it is for only one year.

Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials es­ti­mate that R40 bil­lion would be needed each year to cover stu­dents’ tu­ition fees alone.

Zuma’s plan to source an in­terim fund for free higher ed­u­ca­tion in 2018 was met with en­thu­si­asm in Fi­nance Min­is­ter Malusi Gi­gaba’s of­fice as se­nior of­fi­cials be­lieved it was about im­ple­ment­ing ANC pol­icy.

Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials tasked with con­sid­er­ing the fund­ing said the gov­ern­ment was not in favour of a “do-noth­ing sce­nario”.

Although the com­mis­sion based its find­ings on the in­for­ma­tion be­fore it, that did not stop gov­ern­ment from try­ing to find an al­ter­na­tive ap­proach, said a se­nior of­fi­cial. “It is about as­sist­ing the African child be­cause ed­u­ca­tion has been made a com­mod­ity in South Africa and re­served for the su­per-rich,” said the of­fi­cial.

“It is a lux­ury and it is made de­lib­er­ately un­af­ford­able, and we need to ed­u­cate the African child. That is the bur­den that we carry.

“So, do you con­demn your peo­ple to poverty or what? We have to let it hap­pen. We can­not fight this thing. It is not cor­rup­tion. At least the gov­ern­ment says: ‘We are go­ing to look at the money to fi­nance this thing, even if we are phas­ing it in.’”

City Press has learnt that among the op­tions un­der con­sid­er­a­tion are redi­rect­ing funds from un­der­spend­ing pro­grammes; con­duct­ing a 5% “shave” across the board on all pro­grammes; and push­ing some in­fra­struc­ture projects that can be delayed into “the outer years”. Among the fac­tors that will in­flu­ence the fi­nal de­ci­sion, the of­fi­cial said, is whether the bud­get deficit will in­crease. “How does it af­fect our peo­ple? Will it al­low for eco­nomic growth or will it have a neg­a­tive im­pact on the prospects to grow the econ­omy?” he said.

“It is a com­pre­hen­sive and sober process, and the cyn­i­cism line will not work.” How­ever, di­vert­ing funds from the NIHSS is seen as de­feat­ing the very same gov­ern­ment agenda to trans­form the skewed de­mo­graph­ics at uni­ver­si­ties, where more than 80% of pro­fes­sors are white. This is a bat­tle that for­mer higher ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter Blade Nz­i­mande has waged. Last year, a task team was ap­pointed to look into what was holding back the cre­ation of black pro­fes­sors. NIHSS head Sarah Mosoetsa con­firmed its bud­get was cut from R173 mil­lion to R137 mil­lion and that its fund­ing would con­tinue to de­cline in 2018/19 and 2019/20. “R35 mil­lion is not sig­nif­i­cant,” she said. “But

R35 mil­lion for an en­tity that is run­ning on a bud­get of less than R200 mil­lion is sig­nif­i­cant. It is sig­nif­i­cant [be­cause of] what the in­sti­tute has been able to pro­duce. “It is a pity that again in South Africa we are mak­ing choices about how the hu­man­i­ties do not mat­ter.” Mosoetsa, whose in­sti­tute was es­tab­lished in 2013 to in­crease the num­ber of black PhD stu­dents, sug­gested that not enough had been done to con­sider the ef­fect of slash­ing its bud­get.

The in­sti­tute’s re­search fund­ing has been cut by more than 80%. While Mosoetsa sup­ported free ed­u­ca­tion, she said it should not hap­pen at oth­ers’ ex­pense. “There is an English phrase about rob­bing Peter to pay Paul. That is what is hap­pen­ing here.”

The in­sti­tute has funded more than 400 PhD stu­dents in three years, 45 of whom grad­u­ated last week.

“We have been com­plain­ing a lot in this democ­racy about how uni­ver­si­ties are lily white and male; that there is an age­ing co­hort of aca­demics even in the hu­man­i­ties and so­cial sciences,” she said.

“We also know that be­fore you be­come a pro­fes­sor you need to have your hon­ours, mas­ter’s and PhD – and it takes at least 10 years for you to get a PhD. It takes an­other 10 years for you to be­come a pro­fes­sor.

“So, we started three years ago to open the pipeline of pro­duc­ing the next gen­er­a­tion.

“But just as we start see­ing the re­sults ... we get our bud­get cut.”

Mosoetsa said the Na­tional Skills Fund (NSF), which funds her or­gan­i­sa­tion, ex­plained that its bud­get was cut be­cause of “fi­nan­cial con­straints”.

“Its bud­get was cut by R8.2 bil­lion. Who took that money? Trea­sury? For what? I am not sure whether it was for the current fees in­ter­ven­tion or pre­vi­ously, to cover fund­ing for #FeesMustFall in pre­vi­ous years.

“But ei­ther way, the NSF is bank­rupt. That is what I know and that is what we are told.”

City Press un­der­stands that Zuma’s no-fee plan will have a rip­ple ef­fect on an already broke NSF.

In May, Trea­sury wrote a let­ter ad­vis­ing the NSF to re­view a num­ber of projects and con­trac­tual com­mit­ments in line with its avail­able re­sources.

Trea­sury also di­rected that man­age­ment im­ple­ment a turn­around strat­egy and re­view its in­come-gen­er­a­tion op­tions to help raise its own funds.

Mosoetsa added: “If you say free higher ed­u­ca­tion, what hap­pens to the in­fra­struc­ture at uni­ver­si­ties? ... You need to in­vest in the in­fra­struc­ture, in­ter­net ac­cess, li­braries, books, etc. You can­not just bring stu­dents into uni­ver­si­ties and ex­pect them to sur­vive.”

The in­sti­tute will now have to be re­struc­tured, which will lead to job losses.

Mosoetsa said Zuma should in­stead cut jobs in his bloated Cabi­net.

“It is sad that ... we have to let go of cer­tain peo­ple. It’s just painful. It is also go­ing to be ab­so­lutely painful if we can­not fund more PhDs in the sys­tem,” she said, adding that in­stead of pro­duc­ing 1 000 PhDs, the in­sti­tute will only be able to af­ford to fund 600.

It is un­der­stood that the fees re­port was among the is­sues dis­cussed at the tri­par­tite al­liance’s po­lit­i­cal coun­cil three weeks ago, which marked the first time that Nz­i­mande came face-to-face with Zuma af­ter he was axed.

City Press un­der­stands that at the coun­cil, SA Com­mu­nist Party lead­ers con­fronted Zuma about by­pass­ing Nz­i­mande and not giv­ing him a copy of the He­her Com­mis­sion re­port, al­legedly on the wis­dom of an in­ex­pe­ri­enced out­sider – the pres­i­dent’s al­leged fu­ture son-in­law, Mor­ris Ma­sutha (28).

City Press learnt that only three peo­ple had the He­her re­port: Zuma, the di­rec­tor-gen­eral in the pres­i­dency Dr Cas­sius Lu­bisi, and Ma­sutha.

Those in ANC cir­cles raised con­cerns about Zuma ram­ming ahead with his free ed­u­ca­tion plan de­spite fis­cal con­straints.

Fur­ther­more, free ed­u­ca­tion would not be a once-off ex­pen­di­ture.

Zuma is also eye­ing the bank­rupt NSF as well as the Un­em­ploy­ment In­surance Fund (UIF), among oth­ers.

The sen­ti­ment was that tak­ing money from the UIF would crip­ple the fund, given the many re­trench­ments in the min­ing sec­tor.

The ANC na­tional pol­icy con­fer­ence in July man­dated gov­ern­ment to come up with creative mea­sures to ad­dress the plight of poor stu­dents who can­not af­ford ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion, even if it meant fund­ing would be grad­u­ally phased in. Uni­ver­sity fees have increased an­nu­ally by an av­er­age of 8% a year.


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SLASH­ING BUD­GETS Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma

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