7 October 2015
A task team had been established to explore solutions to short-term student funding challenges, President Jacob Zuma said yesterday following a “fruitful and historical” meeting with vice-chancellors and the leadership of universities in South Africa at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.
The meeting between the leadership of the country and its tertiary education institutions ties into one of the outcomes of the National Development Plan, namely, Africa’s place in the world. This is an effort to create a better South Africa, a better Africa and a better world.
Meeting with university leadership
The meeting was held at the request of Universities of South Africa and the University Council Chairs Forum – South Africa. Among other things, the request was necessitated by the recent violence on campuses countrywide.
South Africa recognised and supported the right of university students to protest and to voice their opinions and grievances, Zuma said. However, he strongly condemned the violence and destruction of property that had taken place at some universities in the name of student protests over the past year or so. The most recent violent protests have been at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
“This right to protest should be exercised with utmost responsibility, ensuring that the rights of other South Africans are not violated in the process,” he said.
While violent student responses had been condemned, university management must open up legitimate channels for discussion and dialogue over matters concerning students, with a view to resolving whatever issues they raised.
“We believe that university management must be more proactive and not allow matters to deteriorate to such an extent that students go on a rampage, often due to lack of understanding and knowledge of the situation and spurred by poor communication,” Zuma said.
Issues relating to the transformation of the higher education sector were also discussed, ahead of the second Higher Education Summit, which will take place in Durban from 15 to 17 October.
“It was further noted that the current activity on many historically white university campuses by new student movements were related to concerns around the slow pace of university transformation and the demand to open access more effectively and thus change entrenched institutional cultures.
“We also discussed some of the real gains in transforming the higher education sector, while acknowledging that there is still much more to be done.”
Students protesting for the transformation of institutions, the president stressed, must focus on dialogue and legitimate means of negotiation and protest to bring about change.
The use of Afrikaans as the main medium of instruction on some campuses has been an issue leading to student protests:
— Neria Hlakotsa (@neriahlakotsa) October 6, 2015
— KhayelihleKhumalo (@KhayaJames) October 6, 2015
#SAVarsities Zuma: Afrikaans is an African language, it must not isolate itself
— POWER987 News (@POWER987News) October 6, 2015
The focus of the meeting were the key challenges facing universities such as student financial aid, the increasing politicisation of university campuses, and transformation of higher education.
“We wish to reiterate government’s commitment to funding poor students in higher education in the context of a constrained fiscal climate,” said Zuma.
Funding for poor academically capable students, disbursed though the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), has increased from R441-million in 1997 to over R9.5-billion in 2015.
“While funding has increased considerably, it is clearly still insufficient to support all poor and academically deserving students,” Zuma admitted. Processes for improving the disbursement of funds and concerted efforts to root out fraud, as well as sourcing additional funding to support students were being implemented.
Shortfalls in financial aid, however, should not be used as a justification for hooliganism and vandalism of state property.
The task team
The task team will be made up of officials from the Department of Higher Education and Training, the Presidency, NSFAS, two vice-chancellors representing the leadership of universities, two student representatives, and other higher education stakeholders.
It would make recommendations by the end of November.