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Q&A with higher education minister Naledi Pandor

The department of higher education & training has allocated R967m of additional funding to settle historic debt owed to universities. Chris Baron spoke to minister Naledi Pandor.

31 March 2019 - 00:00 By Chris Barron

Where is it coming from?
We had funding . to assist students to meet the fee increments effected between 2015 and 2016. Some money was left over from that. We've been negotiating with Treasury to utilise those funds.
How much are universities owed?
The sum I've announced.
What about the R10bn the parliamentary portfolio committee mentioned?
They're speaking of an estimation of the sum total of all loans or debts taken up by students since the inception of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.
Which is still owed to universities?
It is still outstanding, yes.
Who's going to pay this back?
Some students are paying back, but a large number say they just do not have the means. We're identifying who exactly they are and what their specific circumstances are.
Can the universities afford to lose this money?
I don't think they can. We're trying to find a way of addressing the problem. What we've announced is a beginning.
It's a drop in the ocean, isn't it?
I don't want to say a drop in the ocean. I think R967m from the public purse is a significant investment.
Relative to the R10bn owed, aren't you just scratching the surface?
Well, one looks at what one can do.
Any idea what the impact of this R10bn debt has been on research budgets and academic standards?
We have had improved funding of institutions in the last three years, so universities have begun to see improved allocations.
But you're going to have to come up with R10bn?
I think it's possible because I've been speaking to various partners in the private sector and they're keen to lend a hand.
What is the planned growth of student numbers?
We have an enrolment plan which we revise every five years.
What is it telling you?
Institutions will grow at between 2% and 4%. If they exceed that, they bear the cost. Our intention is that the numbers should be higher in the technical & vocational education & training sector . but that we shouldn't have as large growth as we've had in the university sector.
How do you expect universities to keep their numbers down?
The enrolment plan will stress particular disciplines where we would like to see the increases.
You want them to exclude students on the basis of the courses they choose?
Have a reduction in the humanities and social sciences, yes.
Will the government support them if there's a backlash?
If this is our plan we must stand by it, obviously.
Is free tertiary education sustainable?
We have a commitment to provide funding for that, so government has to ensure the resources are available. As for sustainability, we need to be looking at . public-private partnerships...

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