House Chairperson

Honourable Minister and Deputy Minister

Honourable Members

 

This policy debate on the Budget Vote of Higher Education takes place during the Youth Month. A month which gives us the opportunity too deeply reflect on the role of the youth in the history of our country and world. It also gives us an opportunity to critically assess as the ANC government what impact our policies have had on the youth of our country.

 

The ANC has played a visionary role for decades by encouraging the youth to place education at the centre of development. Education is our new AK 47 in realising economic freedom in our lifetime. It is a non negotiable imperative to transform our society. Youth are an important generation for the future of any nation. The greatest concern for the ANC is the high number of unemployment, and the the youth who are not in employment, education and training, we therefor call on all the youth of our country to make the most of the opportunities the democratic government and the economy create.

 

Even during the dark days of apartheid and colonialism the ANC in Tanzania established the Solomon Mahlangu College which ensured that combatants are educated and literate.

 

With the increase of literacy in our country due to expanding basic education, our higher education system has been facing a continuous increase in the number of students registered.

 

This is a milestone we should welcome and commend. During this year of 150 years of Charlotte Maxeke, we should continue to ensure that girls and women continue with their higher education studies to your highest level of doctorates in honour of Charlotte Maxeke. Charlotte Maxeke was the first female South African to attain a Bachelors of Science in the United States of America.

 

She planted the seed to ensure that women are liberated from the shackles of poverty and patriarchy. Today 27 years since the democratic government of the African National Congress women have indeed been empowered through higher Education whiles much still needs to be done.

 

The higher education act preamble amongst others seeks to ensure that it ;

 

  • Restructures and transforms programmes and institutions to respond better to the human resource, economic and development needs of the Republic;

  • Redress past discrimination and ensure representativeness and equal access;

  • Provide optimal opportunities for learning and the creation of knowledge;

 

This is the critical role our higher education institutions should play. Our education system curriculum and academic programmes should be designed to respond to the economic challenges facing the country. The misalignment of academic qualifications and the needs of the economy creates a skills mismatch resulting in many graduates not have relevant skills for the market.

 

We need to ask ourselves the critical question of whether our higher education responds to this imperatives. Does it redress discrimination, representativeness and equal access?

 

The 2015 student protest on the Rhodes must fall and the Fees must fall movement was responding to this objective of the Higher Education Act. The fact that racism continues to rear its head in universities, with other dominated by white academics indicates the lack of transformation which sparked the 2015 student protest. The lack of transformation in other senates in your predominantly former white universities should continue to concern us.

 

On representativeness our universities are relatively representative. We should continue to ensure women become Vice-Chancellors and other senior roles in the academia.

 

Our higher education system should be able to develop alternatives. Alternative ideas in order to transform our society, this includes heterodox approaches in the quest of providing optimal opportunities for learning and creation of knowledge.

 

The department can contribute to this through supporting research projects and students who focus on developing alternatives from the current status quo. Noting that change is unavoidable in our world which is in constant motion our universities should be in the cutting edge of this change to shape it to create an equitable society which distributes income and assets in an equitable manner.

 

The democratic government should ensure all our universities have an orientation which resolves the problems of the ordinary men in the street whiles resolving broader complex problems affecting society.

 

Honourable Minister, academic freedom is a critical principle of higher education, but it should not be blind to the socio-economic factors which are dominant in our society. Academic freedom should not be used to entrench dominance of knowledge by the dominant class in society who reproduce the inequality we have in our country.

 

This is contained in the Preamble of the Higher Education Act to promote the values which underlie an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom.

 

On equal access we need to unequivocally commend the government for ensuring that learning and culture continues to be a key priority in order to respond to our challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality.

The fact that unemployment is lower for those with a degree indicates the significance of education in getting opportunities in the economy.

 

The Budget of 2021 is tabled a time when our country is confronted with the coronavirus pandemic. The budget adjustments of the previous financial year in order to respond to the coronavirus have had a significant in the budget allocation of the department. This does not affect students who qualify for NSFAS and other student financing programmes of the department particularly for the poor.

 

In a time of such crisis and financial constraints the budget is designed to protect the poor and working class, this we acknowledge honourable minister.

The realisation of fee free higher education for the poor is an important milestone for the ANC government. This will result in positive developmental gains in the future for the coming generations. The fact that the threshold was increased from 120 000 to 350 000, has enabled a significant increase of students supported by NSFAS.

 

The gap in higher education is mainly amongst those that come from households with an income above R350 000. This is the missing middles who are too rich for the current threshold yet too poor to sustain supporting a student in university.

 

We are glad that cabinet has taken a decision to have the department develop proposals on how financial assistance can be provided for those in the missing middle. We must also state it categorically that the ANC does not support a blanket free education to support the rich but fee free education for the people without the means to pay for access.

 

It is for this reason the ANC Supports this Budget Vote because it advances key policy priorities of the ANC government.