IN FULL: Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande on 2017 university fees

 IN FULL: Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande on 2017 university fees

Good morning, ladies, and greet new gentlemen of the media‚ and thank you for making time to be here for this important announcement.

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 now finding it difficult to access post-school education because of the financial challenges they, as individuals or as families, face.

The government is aware of these challenges and takes them very seriously. Indeed, ‚ government remains firmly committed to progressively realizing free post-school education for people with low incomes and the working class‚ as called for by our Constitution‚ and assisting middle-class families who cannot pay.

Blade Nzimande

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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‚ enabling South Africans to access higher education even if they come from poor and working-class families. Hopefully, the Higher Commission recommendations will 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 a tough financial situation. The effects of last year’s moratorium on fee adjustments and the extra costs associated with insourcing have 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 sector’s financial sustainability. Our economy is currently weak, and our fiscal position is difficult. The tax burden has been rising recently ‚ and we must preserve the budgetary space to fund the government’s policy agenda in future years. This means that any funding the government mobilizes to support the pressing challenges in higher education‚ would need to be reprioritized from other government programs.

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‚. At the same time, we face the challenge of building a community college sector to provide educational alternatives for 18 million South Africans who cannot study at university.

In other words‚, our government job requires several 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.

Dennis Bailey

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