South Africa’s Minister of Higher Education and Training Dr Blade Nzimande has announced that he is paying close attention to “accelerated transformation in universities, including setting concrete targets and transformation indicators”. The demographics of the professoriate needs to be radically changed, discrimination eliminated and student success and support improved.
Delivering his budget speech this month, Nzimande urged the parliamentary portfolio committee on higher education to also focus on transformation, which is being monitored by a ministerial committee and has been brought into sharp focus by countrywide student protests against campus statues and names harking from the colonial and apartheid eras.
In South Africa, higher education transformation is linked to race and the need to have more black academics and campus cultures that are not alienating for black students, who are in a considerable majority.
The transformation imperative
Nzimande told parliament that despite the significance of symbols, “we must not conflate these with more fundamental matters of transformation.
“There remains an urgent need to radically change the demographics of our professoriate; transform the curriculum and research agendas; cultivate greater awareness of Africa; eliminate racism, sexism and all other forms of unjust discrimination; improve academic success rates; and expand student support.
“Some institutions have made substantial progress in transforming themselves, but others have lagged behind. Focused attention by all of us is required on this matter.”
Transformation would be on the agenda at a second higher education summit to be be held later this year, and the Department of Higher Education and Training’s Transformation Oversight Committee would receive better resourcing.
Nzimande revealed that he had already accepted some recommendations of a committee that reviewed university funding, including a development grant of R2 billion to historically disadvantaged institutions over the next five years.
“This should enable these institutions to become financially stable and improve the quality of their governance, teaching, learning and research. We are also investigating the cost drivers in higher education to better understand the reasons for fee increases.”
The minister said he recently approved the Staffing South Africa’s Universities Framework, a comprehensive approach to building capacity, developing future generations of academics and increasing the number of highly capable black and women academics at all levels.
Also, over the past year draft policies and reports aimed at accelerating transformation had been published for comment, including the Social Inclusion Policy Framework, a recognition of prior learning policy and South African Qualifications Authority principles on articulation.
During his budget speech, Nzimande said much had been achieved in higher education since 1994, the year democracy was achieved, including black and women students now being in the majority in universities.
The National Student Financial Aid Scheme had supported more than 1.5 million poor students, the drop-out rate had declined from 25% among first year students in 2005 to 19% in 2012, and only 5% of graduates were unemployed.
The university system was expected to grow from 984,000 students in 2013 to 1.1 million in 2019. “We confidently expect to achieve the target of 1.6 million students by 2030 as per the National Development Plan and White Paper,” Nzimande said.
Nzimande said one of the sector’s top priorities was improving the quality of teaching and learning, through a number of programmes including expanding foundation courses to assist under-prepared students, teaching and learning development, investing in university infrastructure, and audits to improve accessibility for students and staff with disabilities.
Last December, Nzimande appointed a ministerial committee to develop a strategic disability policy framework to strengthen the implementation and monitoring of disability policies across the post-secondary education and training system.
Nine community colleges administrative centres were established in all provinces last month, allowing public adult learning centres to be merged into community colleges aimed at training students for the labour market or self-employment and providing school-level education to adults.
“Pilot community colleges will be established in 2016 although the exact number has not yet been determined. Thereafter the colleges will be progressively rolled out in all provinces.”
“We estimate that there are 18 million South Africans who need adult education and training. This is larger than our schooling, university and colleges systems combined,” said Nzimande.
Technical and vocational education and training, or TVET, college enrolments had more than doubled in the past five years and would continue to increase, targeting 725,000 enrolments this year — an increase of 39,000 over last year.
Construction of three of 12 planned new TVET college campuses was underway and one would be completed this year. But the rapid pace of enrolment growth would now be reduced to focus on quality improvements.
Student financial aid
Parliament heard that since its inception, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, or NSFAS, had awarded around R50 billion (US$4.2 billion) in loans and bursaries to about 1.5 million students.
For the 2015-16 financial year, the NSFAS budget from the department comprised R4.1 billion for university study loans, R2.2 billion for college bursaries, and R149 million for administration costs.
Recovered funds and donor allocations increased the total NSFAS budget to R9.5 billion for the allocation of 205,000 university student loans and bursaries and 200,000 college bursaries.
“Sadly, we have found evidence of corruption in the application of NSFAS loans and bursaries within the system. By the end of May 2015 a forensic investigation will have commenced to determine the depth of corrupt practices in the administration of NSFAS.”
The Department of Higher Education and Training has started developing a new National Plan for Post School Education and Training, which will consolidate its programmes into a single coordinated and integrated framework.
“This will guide the work of the department over the next 15 years, in the period to 2030.”
This year, Nzimande concluded, he will introduce a Higher Education Amendment Bill as well as amendments to the Skills Development Act, which will “aim to strike an appropriate balance between institutional autonomy and public accountability of universities”.
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