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

Financial Mail - Investors Monthly - - Budget 2017 - Char­lotte Mathews math­ewsc@fm.co.za

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.

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