Student heads to the Great Hall to study at Wits  University, Johanesburg. Picture: THE TIMES/SIHLE MAKU
Student heads to the Great Hall to study at Wits University, Johanesburg. Picture: THE TIMES/SIHLE MAKU

The Department of Higher Education and Training is set to spend about R7bn on university infrastructure over the next two years, it has announced.

Infrastructure backlogs have led to accommodation shortages and students have responded by protesting on campuses.

University enrolment figures are expected to rise from about 1-million in 2016-17 to 1.1-million by 2019-20. Enrolments at technical colleges are expected to stabilise at about 710,535 a year.

Through its infrastructure and efficiency grant, the department has spent R14.87bn on infrastructure development over the past 10 years.

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said investment in infrastructure — including teaching and research spaces, equipment and student living environments — was key in ensuring universities could deliver on their mandate, which was to empower people.

"But access is just one side of the coin. We have always been aware that we must also strengthen the institutions, not least by increasing our infrastructure spending," he said.

Of the R6.964bn additional infrastructure spending announced on Thursday, R2.1bn would go towards student housing, which the department said would help to provide 200,000 more beds.

About R1.475bn would go towards refurbishing existing infrastructure and dealing with maintenance backlogs.

"As a result of the infrastructure audit and the submission of comprehensive maintenance plans by the institutions, we have dedicated R1.457bn to this area over the next two years," Nzimande said.

He said investment in infrastructure needed to improve living and learning conditions in historically disadvantaged institutions, which would receive R248m for new projects.

About R1bn per year would be allocated for the development of Mpumalanga and Sol Plaatjie universities, while the new Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University would get a R600m boost towards strengthening its development.

However, Nzimande warned that none of the money would be spent on repairing or replacing buildings damaged and vandalised over the past 18 months by a small group claiming to represent protesting students, as this was being dealt with through other means.

More than R500m will go to priority infrastructure developments and projects identified by universities, including improved access for disabled staff and students, laboratories, security and development of information and communication technology.

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