We need a con­crete plan to fund higher ed­u­ca­tion

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

Blade Nz­i­mande

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