Weekend Post (South Africa)

Possibilit­y mooted of UIF money funding education programmes

- Sipho Mabena

THE chairman of the University Fees Commission has asked why the government is not tapping into large sources of money, such as the Unemployme­nt Insurance Fund (UIF), to pay for government programmes.

Judge Jonathan Heher told Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan‚ who was making his submission in Pretoria yesterday, that in the next 10 years the UIF would have accumulate­d a surplus of R296-billion.

By last year June‚ it had a surplus of R126-billion, which Heher said could be used to fund higher education instead of lying unused.

“In our minds‚ that is government money wasted‚ simply allowed to lie in the hands of one group of people to do what they like with it‚” he said.

Gordhan said the ministry was not aware of this informatio­n and asked the commission

“Poor workers who retired and cannot be traced at the moment must be found so that they can get the money” – PRAVIN GORDHAN

to provide it to the Treasury so that it could be evaluated and assessed on what was viable and what was not.

Asked to elaborate on his response after his submission‚ Gordhan said some of these types of funds were contributi­ons by employees and employers and were not public sector funds.

“They are not government funds, so there might be sets of rules that apply to them,” Gordhan said “But‚ ideally‚ it is poor workers who left their jobs or retired and cannot be traced at the moment who must be found so that they can get the money‚” he said.

Although there was this notion of available money‚ this had to be approached carefully and in a balanced way to manage all the different factors, he warned.

In his submission‚ Gordhan said there were many demands on government from all sectors of society.

“If you emphasise one‚ who are you excluding and what will that give rise to?” he asked. “What you want ideally is a sus- tainable environmen­t where we meet as many requiremen­ts as possible‚ including a better focus on higher education and training.”

He said the government was part of the process to get maximum engagement on the higher education funding crisis.

The minister said free higher education could be possible if the public was prepared to pay for it.

Treasury deputy-director Michael Sachs said in 2015 the total operating budget for universiti­es was R60-billion‚ some of which already came from government subsidies.

“The question is not about how much it will cost today but how the system of universiti­es will evolve over time if we institute the system of fee free education. What is the financing stream that will be able to manage those expenditur­es and how will the system evolve?” he asked.

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