Friday’s Higher Education budget speech saw a significantly higher turnout than Science and Technology, despite the two departments merging to form the new Department of Higher Education, Science and Technology.
Education has a budget of approximately R108-billion, R100-billion more than Science and Technology, which has only been allocated R8-billion to oversee the widely anticipated Fourth Industrial Revolution, which the Nzimande mentioned more than 10 times in his two speeches.
Nzimande’s return to higher education has been challenged both by students on social media and politicians. The EFFs Nazier Paulsen called Nzimande’s appointment a “fantastic catastrophe” while EFF MEC Ntokozo Hlonyana rejected the Higher Education budget and reminded those present that during the 2015 Fees Must Fall protests Nzimande, as Higher Education Minister, “called for students to fall”.
Student protests were alluded to, if not directly named, by many political parties. Wayne Thring from the ACDP advised students: “You do not have to damage, destroy or burn what you have in order to obtain what you don’t have”, while the Freedom Front Plus’s Wynand Boshoff empathised with the Minister’s position, referring to “entitled youth who think that anything they do not have [the minister] owes it to them.”
Members of the ANC also put forth their condemnation of property destruction while former #FeesMustFall leader Nompendulo Mkhatshwa acknowledged that students’ criminal records should be cleared.
The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) was of primary concern across the political spectrum, with several MPs making the struggling aid scheme the focus of their speeches. In 2018, NSFAS was put under administration following serious administrative failures, according to Nzimande.
Last year, 2018, saw the implementation of free higher education for first-year undergraduate students, with a plan of providing all undergraduate students access to free higher education by 2022.
“The bursary is being implemented through the NSFAS. The substantial investment in poor and working-class students over the 2019 MTEF amounts to R82-billion for university students and R20.4-billion for TVET college students,” Nzimande announced in his budget speech, meaning that over R100-billion will be made available for students with an annual family income of less than R350,000.
Despite the implementation of Free Higher Education, the IFPs Siphosethu Ngcobo said: “It is a fact that we continue to fail black academics.”
Failure comes in the form of student accommodation, according to representatives from the DA, EFF and IFP.
In particular, the ANC’s Bafuze Yabo said: “Many students from rural areas which are further away from these institutions of higher learning are most likely to decline an admission due to a lack of any accommodation in close proximity to the learning campus or the inability to afford such accommodation.”
In an attempt to rectify this, Nzimande told the house that the primary infrastructure goal for his administration was the development of affordable student accommodation. The Student Housing Infrastructure Programme will aim to supply an additional 300,000 beds for university and TVET colleges over the next 10 years.
But it was not just student accommodation that the Minister has been called on to provide. In order to achieve the smart cities of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s dreams, Deputy Minister Buti Manamela stated that South Africa will need smart higher education and training institutions.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution, which will reportedly allow for the creation of smart cities, is based upon smart technology created by students according to Manamela.
In her speech at the budget debate for Science and Technology, DA MP Belinda Bozzoli questioned whether the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is just a buzzword. Bazzoli said that if 4IR is not taken seriously, “The ineffective and floundering bureaucracy which is Higher Education will prevail and science will suffer. If there is a serious commitment to the matter, then the budget for advanced science will rapidly escalate, in keeping with the need for us to stay on top of, rather than succumb to, future trends.”
As one of the youngest ANC members present Mkhatshwa asked the floor what a TVET or CET college would look like in the fictional African city of Wakanda.
She was not alone in her call for the re-imagination of colleges in South Africa, with the Minister himself saying in the briefing: “We want to change this perception that in order to be educated you have to have gone to a university first.”
The department intends providing more funding and infrastructure to post-school training centres, including online and after-hours training and education. Nzimande emphasised that, although “training” was removed from the Ministry’s name, training and TVET colleges remain one of the most important aspects of the department. DM