Opposition parties slam higher education Covid-19 budget cuts

22 July 2020 - 18:19 By Aphiwe Deklerk
Higher education and training minister Blade Nzimande outlined cuts affecting his department in parliament on Wednesday. File photo.
Higher education and training minister Blade Nzimande outlined cuts affecting his department in parliament on Wednesday. File photo.
Image: GCIS

Opposition parties have slammed the government's Covid-19 induced multibillion-rand cuts from the higher education and training department's budget.

Presenting the department's budget vote in parliament on Wednesday, minister Blade Nzimande outlined cuts which will affect his department.

The cuts will not only affect universities and TVET (technical and vocational education and training) colleges. They will also affect on-the-job training through reductions of funding for Setas (sector education and training authorities).

“Amid the world pandemic, we had to revise our appropriation ... to ensure that we bring about a successful completion to the academic year,” said Nzimande. “R2.1bn from the state subsidy and transfer has been reprioritised as a Covid-19 response mechanism for universities for both teaching and learning.”

The cuts saw Nzimande face criticism, with the two biggest opposition parties — the DA and EFF — opposing the budget.

The DA's Belinda Bozzoli was the first to criticise the minister, saying his budget vote speech hid the extent of the cuts.

“This is a destructive budget and its destructiveness is not easy to see, so let me try and reveal it. The budget has been adjusted by the Treasury by two amounts: one suspension of funds totalling R6.7bn and one reduction in levy income of R8.1bn,” she said.

“So this means that out of a budget of R86bn, the department will be giving up R14.8bn or 16% of its normal expenditure. The department has made this amount look smaller ... by calling nearly R5bn of it a suspension of funds, rather than a cut.”

She said the R5bn referred to as a suspension was meant to deal with Covid-19 related expenses, but that was not the case with other departments, who got additional funding for Covid-19.

Bozzoli blamed corruption by the ANC-led government as the reason the state did not have money in its reserves to add to the fight against Covid-19, instead of cuts.

EFF MP Suzan Thembekwayo also slammed the budget, saying students in traditionally black universities like Fort Hare, the University of Limpopo and the University of KwaZulu-Natal were struggling to get devices like laptops to help with online learning.

“Covid-19 has exposed deep fissures in society, it has demonstrated that we have not invested in building the necessary foundational blocks from prosperous nations,” said Thembekwayo. “It has demonstrated the depth of the ideological bankruptcy of the liberation movement which has persisted with the commodification of education inherited from the National Party.”

She said Covid-19 had also exposed the ANC's persistent funding of traditionally white universities over those that traditionally catered for black people and as a result, universities like Wits and UCT were able to continue with online learning.

The IFP's Lindinkosi Ngcobo, though he supported the budget, criticised funding cuts targeting Setas.

“This sector has seen no support in managing the Covid-19 pandemic. The supplementary budget's failure to provide additional funding to this important sector to support their effort to manage the impact of the pandemic is glaring omission,” said Ngcobo. “The country's vision of embracing the fourth industrial revolution rings hollow in the face of the supplementary budget.”

He said the cuts will have a long-lasting impact on higher education. Ngcobo said he was concerned of the impact of the reprioritisation of the budget on the National Skills Fund and the Setas, considering the mass unemployment faced by the country.

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