We need a concrete plan to fund higher education
OPEN letter to the Honourable Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande and Honourable Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan:
Our youth are our country’s future, yet many academically capable young people continue to struggle to access or complete tertiary education due to financial barriers.
As university staff and students, we witness with distress and frustration the difficulties our economically disadvantaged students go through to secure funding to pay for their studies.
As academics and support staff, their struggle is ours, too. We want to give of our best to provide our students with quality education, to do research and community engagement and to provide a much-needed stable and supportive learning environment.
Our country’s economy needs graduates who can solve our many challenges.
Transformation of higher education institutions requires human and financial resources. Operating under ever tighter financial constraints, we will soon reach the point where we can no longer do this important work. Therefore, we urge our government and private sector to provide the funding to ensure quality public higher education is accessible and affordable to all academically capable young people of our country.
Section 29 (1)(b) of our constitution states: “Everyone has a right to further education which the state, through reasonable measures, must make progressively available and accessible.”
The decline in state funding of public higher education over the years has led to unaffordable levels of increase in student fees. This has made tertiary education increasingly inaccessible and unaffordable.
Welcome steps have been announced regarding fee adjustments for 2017 to relieve the financial burden for low- and middle-income families.
We hope this signals our government’s medium- to long- term commitment to address the challenges of accessibility and affordability of public higher education and the chronic underfunding of the system.
According to the report of the Ministerial Committee for the Review of the Funding of Universities (DHET, 2013) universities in South Africa are funded at a level equivalent to 0.75 percent of GDP.
Other developing countries with a comparable size of economy contribute significantly more towards higher education.
As academics, workers, students and administrative staff at Rhodes University, we are united and collectively stand in defence of an accessible quality, transformative system of public higher education in South Africa.
We call on our government, particularly the Treasury and the Department of Higher Education and Training, to come up with a concrete action plan to increase spending on public higher education to at least 1 percent of GDP in the shortest possible time-frame.
This needs to be framed within the overall objective of reducing the burden of university fees on students.
We also urge stakeholders in the private sector, themselves beneficiaries of public higher education, to materially commit themselves to finding long-term funding solutions for our system.