Angie Motshekga. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER
Angie Motshekga. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga conceded on Wednesday that government spending per pupil had declined sharply since 2010, saying she was "very anxious" about the effect of current wage demands on future spending.

A recent study by Stellenbosch University researcher Nic Spaull found that government funding per pupil fell 8% from 2010 to 2017, from R17,822 per child to R16,435.

Teacher salaries rose 57% from 2010 to 2016, compared with a 38% increase in the consumer price index, according to his research.

"We are very anxious about the ongoing [wage] negotiations, and what they are going to do with the budgets," Motshekga said ahead of her budget speech in Parliament.

The Treasury has budgeted for an average increase of 7.3% in the wage bill a year, but unions are demanding more.

Motshekga said that while she agreed with Spaull’s finding about the decline in per pupil spending, she did not agree with his conclusion that her department should have anticipated an increase in the number of pupils entering the system in 2008 following a spike in the birth rate five years earlier.

Director-general Mathanzima Mweli said it was Statistics SA’s responsibility to monitor population growth. Stats SA provided the data used to determine the equitable share allocated to each province, which in turn determined their final education budgets, he said.

Consolidated government spending on basic education for 2018-19 is R246.76bn, rising to R263.279bn in 2019-20 and R281.987bn in 2020-21, an annual growth rate of 6.8%.

Provincial compensation of employees, which accounts for 53.5% of the total medium-term allocation, is projected to rise 7.3%, effectively crowding out spending on other services, which rise only 5.7%.

Motshekga said private sector commitments could help the department overcome the cuts to school infrastructure grants, a direct result of the revenue shortfall and the need to find funds for free higher education.

The education infrastructure grant and the accelerated schools infrastructure delivery initiative (also known as the schools infrastructure backlog grant) had both been cut. The former grant falls 1.3% from R10.046bn in 2017-18 to R9.918bn in 2018-19, while the latter drops 9% from R1.452bn to R1.321bn over the same period.

President Cyril Ramaphosa placed school infrastructure high on the agenda after the death of Viwe Jali, 5, in a pit latrine early in 2018. He gave the minister until mid-June to come up with a comprehensive plan.