Higher education committee will double its oversight

Cape Town – The portfolio committee on higher education and training has welcomed President Jacob Zuma's announcement of a fee-free dispensation for poor students at universities and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges.

"The decision by [the] government echoes in part the Constitution that states that the state, through reasonable means, must make higher education accessible. It is our duty to hold [the] government accountable and we will make further recommendations to ensure sustainability of the policy," the committee's chairperson, Connie September, said in a statement released on Monday.

"The committee will double its oversight efforts and make sure that skills development, equity redress and participation in tertiary colleges is doubled," said September. 

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She added that the private sector should be encouraged to continue offering scholarships and bursaries to the needy students to ensure that the nation has enriched human resources. 

According to September, the National Development Plan states that building technical capacity in education requires political consensus and a commitment to work together to advance the goals of improving the quality of education. 

Curriculum 

She said the committee was happy that the government was enhancing opportunities aimed at broadening access to higher education for students who would not ordinarily afford to attain post-school education.

“The committee is particularly happy with the focus on the TVET college sector. The policy shift must enable change in a curriculum that does not speak to society needs and does not translate into innovation. The increase in government contribution to higher education as a percentage of GDP is one of the ways to address the underfunding problem in higher education and training as our report suggested,” September said.

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However, not everyone in the committee was entirely happy. The DA spokesperson on higher education and training, who serves on the committee, said on Monday that Zuma’s announcement last month "was clearly a political stunt which has placed the futures and safety of students and the tertiary education sector at risk".

"The announcement, which contradicted the findings of the Fees Commission, was reckless and has produced a crisis of the ANC’s own making. It is also high time that the president of the ANC and Deputy President of our country, Cyril Ramaphosa, puts on record how he thinks the ANC will find the money for the promises made by Jacob Zuma to thousands of young people," Belinda Bozzoli said in a statement.

Funding

"In the absence of clear and detailed plans to address the funding for poor and middle-class students, the public will conclude that the ANC and the government are playing political games with the hopes and dreams of our most precious assets - the youth of South Africa."

She said she will write to September to ask that the committee urgently reconvene to be briefed by the ministers of higher education and training, finance and police on plans to address the "impending higher education funding crisis".

"It is vital that we get answers about how much the scheme will cost in this and future years, where exactly the money to fund it will come from, what plans are in place to ensure the safety of students and prospective students on campuses across the country and exactly how many tertiary education places are available and where," said Bozzoli. 

September said the department and relevant institutions must brief the committee if there is a need to change legislation to enable the policy as announced for 2018.

"The policy shift provides us with an opportunity to heed the call on the National Development Plan to seek consensus. Such commitment must be made again by all," said September.