Minister calls for ‘new kind of academic’

Calling for universities to produce “a new kind of academic”, the Higher Education and Training Minister Dr Blade Nzimande said his department would be implementing a capacity development programme prioritising historically disadvantaged universities and focused on student success, staff development and curriculum transformation.

Speaking in parliament in Cape Town last week during the 2017-18 budget debate of the Department of Higher Education and Training, Nzimande said while access and funding remain important in higher education, there was a need to improve participation rates by black students.

“We need to build capacity comprehensively to transform the institutional culture and curricula, in line with the calls for ‘decolonisation’ of our universities,” he said. “This requires the production of a new kind of an academic.”

Building capacity

The University Capacity Development Programme, or UCDP, is to be implemented from the beginning of 2018, Nzimande said.

In terms of the programme, the department will allocate R900 million (US$68 million) in the first year, increasing nominally in subsequent years to enable the implementation of capacity development activities in universities.

“This will include the recruitment and training of new academics that are indispensable in the transformation of curricula in our universities,” he said.

He also announced the establishment of a ministerial task team led by former Deputy Vice-chancellor of the University of South Africa, Professor David Mosoma, to investigate obstacles to the production of black South African academics, and to provide solutions. He said in 2015, 66% of all university professors were still white, 23 years into South Africa’s democracy.

The minister said a commitment has been made to deal with the challenges faced by historically disadvantaged institutions and to ensure that all universities are in a position to deliver high-quality education. To this end, R2.5 billion (US$189 million) over a five-year period has been earmarked for the Historically Disadvantaged Institutions' Development Grant.


He said that positioning innovation and entrepreneurship development at a strategic level in universities was “a priority”, and that universities are in the process of developing a platform that aims to create economic opportunities for graduates, while at the same time becoming more entrepreneurial as institutions to generate third-stream income.

“We are in the process of establishing three communities of practice, or CoPs, in collaboration with Universities South Africa and other stakeholders, focusing on academia, student entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial universities,” said Nzimande.

In terms of his budget, over the period 2016-17 and 2017-18, almost R6.96 billion (US$526 million) will be injected into major new investments for infrastructure development to ensure access, quality higher education and training, and success in the system at universities.

Outlining his department’s achievements since its formation in 2009, Nzimande said three new universities had been established and the policy for the post-school education system set.

For the 2017 academic year, 194,353 university students had been supported, with 78,413 being first-time entrants and 115,940 returning students. Meanwhile, a total of 123,332 technical and vocational education and training, or TVET, students had received support this year.

The minister acknowledged that his department was urgently working with the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, or NSFAS, board to address administrative challenges facing the funding scheme, but denied rumours that the department intended to privatise NSFAS or hand it over to the banks.

TVET colleges

He said while the TVET college system had been strengthened with supporting legislation, and massive infrastructure developments which had resulted in improved access, participation and throughput rates, the TVET sector was still under-funded.

“One of the biggest challenges for this fifth parliament is the need to provide financial resources in order to build a vibrant TVET college sector capable of absorbing millions of our unemployed youth and provide much needed skills for our economy,” said Nzimande.

“The failure to adequately resource the TVET colleges could as well be the single biggest undoing in growing and developing an inclusive economy in South Africa,” he said.

He said that NSFAS has to date been awarded about R72 billion (US$5.4 million) to lend support to more than 2 million students studying at South Africa’s public universities and TVET colleges.

Describing the TVET system as the “cornerstone” of the post-secondary education system, he said three new TVET college campuses were under construction to meet an ultimate target of 12 new TVET college campuses.

Training for college lecturers

He also announced that a new foundation programme to train 5,000 future TVET college lecturers, supported by a European Union grant, was under development and would likely be implemented in 2018-19.

He promised to fix the dysfunction of the examinations system, and clear the certification backlog at TVET Colleges.

As part of the transformation of college curricula, he announced a TVET connectivity project which will operate through the South African National Research Network. It would mean that all 267 colleges campuses would operate in the same ICT network environment as universities, he said.

In 2017-18, Nzimande said the priority would be on piloting the concept of community colleges – aimed at increasing educational access to those South Africans who never finished school – in collaboration with the recently established National Forum for Community Colleges.