Student funding gets a boost
University education continues to get more support but there are calls for more funding for basic education and technical institutions
Post-school education, government’s biggest cost after servicing its debt, receives an additional R5bn on top of the R32bn extra allocated in the medium-term budget.
In his budget speech, finance minister Pravin Gordhan reiterated government’s commitment last year that there will be no increase in fees for university and technical college students whose annual family income is below R600,000. All poor students who qualify for the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) will be supported.
The NSFAS said this week it would be funding 10% more students this year — at about 450,000 people — using the additional funding granted in last year’s budget. Last year an additional R10.6bn over three years was added to NSFAS’s coffers.
The number of enrolled university students is expected to rise to 1.1m by 2019/2020 from about 1m in 2016/2017, while enrolments at technical colleges will stabilise at about 710,535/year, Gordhan said. Community education programmes will serve about 340,000 people by 2019/2020 from 310,000 this year.
The Heher commission of inquiry into higher education and training will complete its work by June and the interministerial committee on higher education is canvassing opinions.
Treasury says a graduate tax — a proposal to levy a tax directly on all university graduates to help raise funding — is unlikely to raise enough for universities. In 2011, SA had about 1.3m graduates and 80,000 graduated in 2014.
Assuming the marginal tax rate of university graduates were to be increased by one percentage point, it would generate only about R3bn, far lower than the R59.8bn needed by SA’s 26 public universities in 2015.
In targeting radical transformation and inclusive growth, two of government’s five critical priorities are improving the quality of basic lit- eracy and numeracy in foundation phase schooling and reforming technical and vocational education so they meet employers’ needs, Gordhan said. Next year government will spend over R240bn or 17.5% of the budget on basic education.
Spending on school buildings will grow at 12.5%/year, and the plan is to have replaced about 510 inappropriate and unsafe schools by 2018/2019. In 2015/2016 the basic education department’s school infrastructure budget was one of the five areas of greatest underspending. It had underspent by R490m, mainly because of difficulties in reaching agreements with communities.
Spending on learning materials for pupils and teachers will grow at 9.5%/year over the next three years. The department of basic education will provide 40,500 bursaries, at R3.5bn, to increase the number of teachers with an emphasis on mathematics, science and technology.
Ian Cruickshanks, chief economist at the SA Institute of Race Relations, says the output from universities cannot be improved unless the inputs are improved.
That means more money needs to be directed at improving the quality of teachers at primary school level, so that students who reach university level are able to proceed beyond merely entry to those institutions.
Cruickshanks says the budget’s failure to direct more funding towards artisanal training was a disappointment. The country needs carpenters, electricians and bricklayers just as much as it needs doctors and lawyers.
Roné McFarlane, a researcher at Equal Education, says the organisation is excited about the R1.1bn increase in the early childhood development grant to include 113,889 more children.
But Equal Education is disappointed that the “equitable share formula”, under which funds are allocated to the provinces, has not been adjusted for the fact that schooling costs more in rural areas.
It was also disappointing that no commitment was made to finance transport for scholars. In provinces like Limpopo, KwaZulu Natal and the Eastern Cape, children often have to walk long distances to schools, which affects their concentration in class.
Though the allocation for school infrastructure was increased in this budget over last year’s, Equal Education says it is also concerned that overall it is lower than in previous commitments. McFarlane says it is also unfortunate that the department of basic education is consistently underspending on school buildings and failing to meet its targets.