Call to almost double funds spent on higher education

21 February 2016 - 02:00 By ASHA SPECKMAN

The government should allocate an additional R30-billion annually towards universities and colleges, a policy and research expert said as fresh student protests this week again highlighted the difficulties many face when it comes to paying fees. At 6.2% of GDP, South Africa's overall spending on education is considered competitive by international standards. But the #FeesMustFall movement has highlighted the hurdles young people face in accessing higher education.Frans Cronjé, CEO of the Institute of Race Relations, said this week that the US spent 5.2% of GDP on education, the UK 6%, Mexico 5.1% and Pakistan 2.5%.He said of South Africa: "On higher education alone we think allocation should be upped by at least R30-billion per annum."Securing this could be a challenge in the short term as the government focuses on narrowing the budget deficit amid expectations of lower revenue collection .story_article_left1South Africa's education budget in the 2015-16 financial year was R265.7-billion for all levels of education, according to the 2015 National Budget Review. Of this, about R36.2-billion is allocated for tertiary education either through transfers to universities or via the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).Amounts budgeted for higher education have, however, not kept pace with inflation or the increasing number of students.Pierre de Villiers, associate professor of economics at Stellenbosch University, said the per capita subsidy of students was decreasing. Universities had hiked fees in response, which led to student protests.The intervention of President Jacob Zuma late last year, when he decreed that there would be no increase in university fees this year, means that the government will have to find R6.8-billion to make up the shortfall for universities.The budget allocation for NSFAS will increase from R9.5-billion in 2015 to R10-billion in 2016-17, it said last month.This week, students at the University of the Witwatersrand continued to protest. The SRC is trying to collect R10-million for students who do not qualify for NSFAS aid and who cannot afford fees.Cronjé said: "Higher GDP growth and not redistribution of spending is the only sustainable way to improve higher education access."block_quotes_start Since the private sector started contributing towards the skills levy from 1999, most of them started giving fewer bursaries block_quotes_endTertiary institutions draw funds from three sources: government subsidies, tuition fees and philanthropic funding.De Villiers said: "I don't think we can be too unhappy about the amount being spent on education. The problem is how we spend it. We have seen in the school system that by throwing more money at the problem you do not solve it."South Africa's unemployment rate of 25.5% is among the highest worldwide.Joanne Doyle-Went, workforce engagement lead at Deloitte Digital, said the country's transition towards a knowledge economy was slow because the majority of the workforce remained "non-information" workers."Where we should be nervous and really focusing is on the huge numbers of our population that don't have access to information," she said.Doyle-Went said the private sector and the government should close the gap together. "We look at the #FeesMustFall campaign. People are hungry for knowledge."Makwe Masilela, economist at BP Bernstein, said the private sector had a greater role to play in education - as it used to. "Since the private sector started contributing towards the skills levy from 1999, most of them started giving fewer bursaries or stopped."Cronjé said projects such as the Jobs Fund and youth empowerment policies that encouraged private sector participation were "gimmicks". He said education and job creation were two policy areas with the potential to accelerate young people into the middle class.The government devoted much time and attention to youth issues and youth policy, but "on the whole its efforts have unfortunately been unsuccessful", he said.story_article_right2"We have new industries like renewable energy, but can we train the workforce from dying industries like gold mining? No. Only a few have the necessary education to be able to acquire new skills. With an educated workforce your productivity ratio automatically increases and efficiencies are easily achievable," said Cronjé.Fred Swaniker, founder of the African Leadership Academy, said that often maths, science, writing and general academic preparation among South African students were below that of students from Kenya, Senegal and Ivory Coast, meaning that the government was achieving a poor return on its investment.Swaniker said jobs of the future would require individuals educated in "not just rote learning of facts and figures", but "21st-century skills ... how do you work in teams, how do you communicate, how do you think critically, how do you solve problems, how do you lead yourself, how do you lead others, how do you analyse and manipulate data and use it to make good decisions? Unfortunately, our university systems are stuck in the past, where they focus on just giving you academic theories."

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