Good morning ladies and gentlemen of the media‚ and thank you very much for making time to be here for this important announcement.
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Our public universities are a significant national asset. They empower the next generation with skills and knowledge‚ and contribute significantly to the ability of our economy to compete globally through innovative and appropriate research.
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Our universities currently face serious challenges in terms of funding. At the same time‚ large numbers of South Africans are currently finding it difficult to access post-school education because of the financial challenges they as individuals or as families face.
Government is aware of these challenges and takes them very seriously. Indeed‚ government remains firmly committed to progressively realise free post-school education for the poor and working class‚ as called for by our Constitution‚ and to assist middle-class families who are unable to pay.
This is demonstrated by the creation of the Presidential Commission of inquiry into higher education and training funding‚ which includes universities‚ and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges‚ as well as the substantial increases in funding to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme since 2010.
The task of the Presidential Commission is to advise on systemic and long-term measures to achieve a far-reaching reconstitution of the entire post-school education and training funding system‚ thereby enabling South Africans to access higher education even if they come from poor and working class families.
The Higher Commission recommendations will hopefully also contribute significantly to building and strengthening our universities and TVET colleges – and the Commission should be allowed to complete its vitally important task.
In the interim‚ while we all wait for the recommendations of this Commission‚ our university system has to continue functioning‚ producing skills for the economy‚ and empowering young South Africans and students from countries around the world‚ in particular the South African Development Community (SADC).
Currently‚ our universities face an extremely difficult financial situation. The effects of last year’s moratorium on fee adjustments and the extra costs associated with insourcing have both added to these challenges.
Our immediate and pressing task is to ensure that as we continue to improve access to post-school education and strengthen the quality of learning and teaching‚ we do not erode the financial sustainability of the sector.
Our economy is currently weak and our fiscal position parlous. The tax burden has been rising in recent years‚ and we must preserve the fiscal space to fund government’s policy agenda in future years. This means that any funding government mobilises to support the pressing challenges in higher education‚ it would need to reprioritize from other government programmes.
We understand the legitimate student concerns about the affordability of university education. At the same time‚ we need to ensure that those who can afford to pay must pay.
Equally importantly‚ the post-school budget has to cover students in technical and vocational education and training‚ while we also face the challenge of building a community college sector to provide educational alternatives for 18 million South Africans who are unable to study at university.
In other words‚ our job as government requires a number of very delicate balancing acts.
To achieve our objectives‚ we must continue arguing for as significant a budget allocation as possible for post-school education. Indeed‚ a look at this year’s budget shows that this sector received the largest increase in funding of any government department.