Blade Nzimande. Picture: GCIS
Blade Nzimande. Picture: GCIS

The Department of Higher Education and Training will soon implement its multimillion rand programme, which aims to boost the successful participation of black students and academics in the sector.

The University Capacity Development Programme will be rolled out at historically disadvantaged institutions from the beginning of 2018, Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande said during his budget vote speech in Parliament. The programme will be allocated R900m in the first year, increasing nominally in subsequent years to enable the implementation of capacity development activities in universities that are focused on student success, staff development and curriculum transformation, said Nzimande.

"This will include the recruitment and training of new academics that are indispensable in the transformation of curricula in our universities." "While access and funding remain important, we need to improve participation rates by black students. We need to build capacity comprehensively to transform the institutional culture and curriculum, in line with the calls for ‘decolonisation’ of our universities. This requires us to produce a new kind of an academic," Nzimande said.

The minister also announced that he would soon appoint a task team to investigate the shortage of black academics in the higher education sector. The task team would probe the obstacles into the production of black South African academics, and will be chaired by the former deputy vice-chancellor of the University of SA (Unisa), Prof David Mosoma. Nzimande pointed out that 66% (in 2015) of all university professors remained white, 23 years into democracy.

The Department’s student housing infrastructure programme was also a major priority for the department.

Nzimande said the ministerial task team on student housing report, which he received in 2010, highlighted major challenges in this area, including maintenance and the need to build approximately 200,000 new beds for universities alone.

Picture: THE TIMES
Picture: THE TIMES

"We need accommodation for TVET colleges as well. We are making steady progress in our joint work with the Department of Public Works to identify underutilised government buildings to be converted into student accommodation," said Nzimande.

He said that given the large shortages of accommodation, universities and colleges would still have to rely on privately owned student accommodation facilities.

"I, however, intend undertaking research to establish ownership patterns in this sector in order to ensure that there is meaningful participation by all South Africans, especially black African owners and participation of youth and women, including co-operatives." Nzimande also said the department was still eagerly awaiting the report of the presidential commission of inquiry into the feasibility of fee-free higher education and training for the poor and working class.

SA’s universities have been rocked by protests in recent years as students demanded that fee increases be scrapped. The government agreed to no fee hikes in 2016 and capped increases for the 2017 academic year at 8%.

Protesting students ultimately want the government to provide free higher education. The commission is due to release its report in June.

DA MP and higher education spokesperson Belinda Bozzoli said the education sector was "stagnating".

The real indicator of higher education financial health is the level of subsidy, which is a disaster, Bozzoli said.

"University subsidies are far below what is required and will continue to increase at way below the required rate of 8% to 10%, putting severe pressure on students, universities and academic staff. So serious are the challenges that the department has reduced its growth targets for the next three years." She added: "For this ongoing tragedy, we have only the government to blame. But the nuclear deal remains the number one priority for the Bernie Madoff of SA — our chief Ponzi scheme owner, President Jacob Zuma. Shame on him," Bozzoli said.

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