VAR­SI­TIES CURB SPEND­ING

How much uni­ver­si­ties spent on in­fra­struc­ture

CityPress - - News - MSINDISI FENGU [email protected]­press.co.za

Uni­ver­si­ties have spent less money on com­put­ers, staff, trans­port, fur­ni­ture and stu­dent ac­com­mo­da­tion in the 2017/18 fi­nan­cial year, mostly be­cause of the #FeesMustFall and #Out­sourcingMustFall cam­paigns.

A Stats SA re­port, re­leased in Oc­to­ber, states that in­fra­struc­ture spend by the coun­try’s 26 uni­ver­si­ties dropped from R6.22 bil­lion in 2016 to R5.89 bil­lion last year.

The re­port cites the Uni­ver­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand (Wits), the Uni­ver­sity of SA (Unisa) and Wal­ter Sisulu Uni­ver­sity (WSU) as hav­ing con­trib­uted “largely” to the de­crease in spend­ing.

“These three in­sti­tu­tions spent less on build­ings, trans­port equip­ment, of­fice fur­ni­ture and other ma­chin­ery and equip­ment,” the re­port said.

But, added the re­port, these uni­ver­si­ties gave “dif­fer­ent rea­sons” for spend­ing less.

“Wits, for ex­am­ple, in­di­cated that it had re­duced cap­i­tal ex­pen­di­ture to con­serve money for in­creased main­te­nance costs. The in­sti­tu­tion would re­di­rect any sur­plus cash to­wards its in­sourc­ing pro­gramme – the process of ab­sorb­ing staff who were pre­vi­ously em­ployed by third-party con­trac­tors,” the re­port said.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, Unisa spent less on lab­o­ra­tory, mu­seum, art and au­dio-vis­ual equip­ment than in 2016, while WSU spent less on build­ings.

Other uni­ver­si­ties cited in the re­port – in­clud­ing Sol Plaatje Uni­ver­sity (SPU) in Kim­ber­ley, and the uni­ver­si­ties of Jo­han­nes­burg and Lim­popo – said they did not have to spend as much be­cause projects had been com­pleted.

The re­port said last year’s “big­gest spenders” on fixed as­sets were the Uni­ver­sity of Pre­to­ria, which spent about R738 mil­lion, fol­lowed by Stel­len­bosch Uni­ver­sity (SU) which spent about R588 mil­lion and the Uni­ver­sity of Mpumalanga (UMP), which spent about R518 mil­lion.

Dr Ahmed Bawa, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Uni­ver­si­ties SA – an or­gan­i­sa­tion rep­re­sent­ing the vice-chan­cel­lors of the coun­try’s 26 uni­ver­si­ties – said the or­gan­i­sa­tion was “deeply con­cerned” about the num­bers.

“[The re­port] comes at a time when there should be in­creas­ing in­vest­ment in in­fra­struc­ture, if uni­ver­si­ties are to meet the tar­gets set in the Na­tional Devel­op­ment Plan of get­ting to a par­tic­i­pa­tion rate of 18- to 24-year-olds to 30% [of the pop­u­la­tion] by 2030. The rate is now about 20%.”

Bawa said it was im­por­tant to note that a large chunk of this in­fra­struc­ture spend would have gone to­wards the re­pair of in­fra­struc­ture dam­aged dur­ing #FeesMustFall and #Out­sourcingMustFall protests, which cost about R800 mil­lion. “The drop in spend­ing of 5.4% last year is much larger than the fall of 0.7% in 2016, and it would be very im­por­tant to pay sig­nif­i­cant at­ten­tion to this year’s spend on in­fra­struc­ture,” he said.

Bawa said that al­though the fo­cus was al­most al­ways on build­ings, “we must be aware that these num­bers also cover teach­ing and re­search equip­ment”.

“Our uni­ver­si­ties are deeply com­mit­ted to pro­duc­ing out­stand­ing new knowl­edge through the re­search they per­form. And, to pro­duce grad­u­ates who are prop­erly pre­pared for the rapidly trans­form­ing world of work, we must pay at­ten­tion to en­sur­ing that these im­por­tant in­sti­tu­tions do not fall be­hind in this re­spect,” he said.

“The spend­ing on in­fra­struc­ture is an in­vest­ment in meet­ing both cur­rent teach­ing and re­search needs, and fu­ture needs. Not in­vest­ing enough will have se­vere con­se­quences in the fu­ture.”

Bawa said that with the in­tro­duc­tion of the dif­fer­ent ver­sions of in­sourc­ing of staff, “there is no ques­tion that there are now new cost drivers in in­sti­tu­tional bud­get­ing, and there is no ques­tion that this will af­fect in­fra­struc­ture fund­ing”.

SU spokesper­son Martin Viljoen said the in­sti­tu­tion viewed a well-planned, long-term and sus­tain­able in­vest­ment in fa­cil­i­ties and in­fra­struc­ture as a di­rect in­vest­ment in its aca­demic project.

“This re­sults in a re­turn on in­vest­ment in terms of in­creased stu­dent num­bers and/or re­search in­come, as well as an im­prove­ment in the qual­ity of aca­demic pro­grammes and re­search projects,” he said.

Uni­ver­sity of West­ern Cape spokesper­son Pro­fes­sor Cher­rel Africa said a sub­stan­tial in­vest­ment was made in cap­i­tal projects in 2016 and 2017, adding that such in­vest­ments were made in in­fra­struc­ture that op­ti­mised re­search and the teach­ing and learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for staff and stu­dents.

SPU’s spe­cial projects di­rec­tor, Pro­fes­sor Pa­trick Fitzger­ald, said that the uni­ver­sity, along with UMP and Se­fako Mak­gatho Health Sciences Uni­ver­sity in Pre­to­ria North, were new in­sti­tu­tions and re­ceived a cap­i­tal devel­op­ment grant from the de­part­ment of higher ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing.

North-West Uni­ver­sity spokesper­son Louis Ja­cobs said it had a plan based on en­rol­ment tar­gets, strat­egy and its an­nual per­for­mance plan.

“We look at how much we should in­vest in de­vel­op­ments and main­te­nance,” he said.

“Once iden­ti­fied, we look at the avail­abil­ity of funds.” Other uni­ver­si­ties did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

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