Speech delivered by the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr BE Nzimande, MP, on the Debate on the State of the Nation Address

18 February 2014

Honourable Speaker
My Honourable Cabinet Colleagues
Honourable Members
Ladies and Gentlemen

I`d like to congratulate our President on his State of the Nation Address. His message provided an important interface between the struggle to end oppression up to 1994 and the struggle since then to entrench democracy and bring about development that benefits all our people, especially the workers and the poor. This State of the Nation Address captures the continuity in these different phases of struggle - an unwavering commitment to a better life for all South Africans.

In his address the President mentioned some of our achievements in Education and Training, an important dimension of the human development the ANC has always been committed to. I will elaborate on these today and also outline how we are planning to meet the challenges that still face us. I will show that, as the President says, we have indeed a good story to tell; and that South Africa is a much better place than it was in 1994.

South Africa`s education and training policies aim to address social and economic challenges facing the country. These include continuing inequality; poverty; a high unemployment rate; persisting underdevelopment in many parts of our country; and a stubborn legacy of Bantu education and skills shortages. One of the results of these challenges is the existence of 3.4 million young people who are currently not in employment, education or training.

This government has developed comprehensive plans to overcome these challenges and has already begun to implement them. These are contained in the our key policy documents such as the National Development Plan, the New Growth Path, the Industrial Policy Action Plan and other strategic documents, including the White Paper on Post School Education and Training and the key policy documents of the Department of Basic Education.

We have expanded education and training opportunities tremendously. We have achieved almost complete universal attendance at school for those of school-going age; children are now staying in school longer than ever before. We have also made enormous strides in providing Grade R, more than tripling enrolments from 242 000 children in 2001 to 780 000 in 2013. The Kha Ri Gude Mass Literacy Campaign reached almost 3 million illiterate adults between 2008 and 2012 at an average of 600,000 taught to read and write every year. The campaign is on track to reach the target of 4, 7 million adults by 2015. [Loluhlelo lokufundisa abadala ukufunda nokubhala selufinyelele kubantu abayuzigidi ezintathu abebengakwazi nhlobo ukufunda nokubhala. Manje sebeyakwazi ukuthi a,e,I,o,u nokungaphezulu]

Since the dawn of democracy in 1994, headcount enrolments in our universities have approximately doubled to almost one million students today. We expect a two thirds increase in university headcount enrolment of over 1.6 million by 2030. We have significantly improved representivity in our universities. In 1994 for example the proportion of African students in public universities was 55% while women made up 45%. By 2012, Africans made up 68% of students and women 58%.

In the Further Education and Training Colleges - now being renamed Technical and Vocational Education and Training (or TVET) College) -enrolments have increased by almost 90% over the last five years alone, as the President has pointed out. In the period to 2030, headcount enrolments in colleges will grow to 2.5 million.

Such growth means we will need more institutions. This week, our two new universities start their academic programmes. We are now also engaged in establishing twelve new TVET college campuses, all of them in rural areas.

In addition, a new institutional type called Community Colleges will be established during the next few years, with a projected headcount enrolment of one million by 2030.

We have also started construction for the Square kilometer Array, a major scientific development in our country.

The growth of enrolments at all levels and the improvement of its quality has necessitated expansion and refurbishment of educational infrastructure. At the end of last year, the Minister of Basic Education declared Norms and Standards for Schools Infrastructure to ensure that sustainable quality standards are maintained. The national Department of Basic Education has become directly involved in improving school infrastructure in areas with the worst backlogs. The Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (ASIDI) has completed 44 new schools and 241 schools are currently at various stages of construction or planning. Over and above the efforts of the provincial education departments, the DBE will build 1 000 new schools over the next five years to address increases in learner numbers, migration issues and curriculum needs.

As you can see, we really do have a good story to tell! Infrastructure development also continues apace in our colleges and universities including the provision of more academic buildings and more and better student residences. Over the past few years, infrastructure funding for universities has prioritised the historically disadvantaged institutions - especially those in the former bantustans - while not ignoring other universities. Of the budget for student residences of 1.78 billion, 1.45 billion is allocated for historically disadvantaged institutions, located in rural areas, because it is there that the need is greatest.

We do, however, continue to care for and to support all our institutions in many different ways. This, I should add, is unlike some of the opposition parties. For example, the UDM seems to care only for Walter Sisulu University (and especially its Umtata campus), the IFP seem concerned only for the University of Zululand. In the DA, those who come from the former Democratic Party seem to be concerned only for the formerly white English-language institutions and those who came from the National Party only for the white Afrikaans-language institutions. This is the poverty and bankruptcy of the opposition. This is just one indication that the ANC is the only party with truly national interests.

The growth of college and university enrolments has been greatly assisted by the expansion of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). Since its inception, NSFAS has provided study opportunities to thousands of poor, mainly black, students. It was established in 1999 and since then its growth has been phenomenal. Between 1999 and 2008 the funds managed by NSFAS grew from R441 million to R2.375 billion and in the last five years, the amount made available through NSFAS has grown over 300% over R9 billion.

The number of NSFAS beneficiaries has also grown - from 41 600 in 1999 to 77 000 in 2008 and about 430 000 in 2014. Until 2011 beneficiaries were exclusively university students but since 2011 they have included students in FET colleges. In 2014, the number of beneficiaries in the FET colleges slightly outnumbers those in universities.

Since its inception, NSFAS has assisted more than 1.4 million students. It has made a qualitative difference to the lives of these students from poor families. Most of them have been the first from their families to attend university or college. The majority have benefitted greatly from the opportunity, providing skills to the South African economy and benefiting themselves and their families. This really is a good story! As the President said, indeed "Education is a ladder out of poverty for millions of our people"!

Expanding the education and training system is as equally important as improving its quality. For this reason we are paying a great deal of attention to improving quality, including, very centrally, improvement of teaching and learning. Our matric results have been the most public demonstration of this, but this is not the only example. The Annual National Assessments (ANAs), introduced in 2011, were administered to Grades 3, 6 and 9 in 2013. They show a definite overall improvement in children`s literacy and numeracy. The results of the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) provide the first indication from an internationally testing system that substantial quality improvements are occurring in the South African schooling system.

In the post-school system too, we are making substantial efforts to improve the throughput rates in all institutions. This means strengthening governance and management and upgrading lecturer qualifications where this is necessary; expanding academic and social support to students; providing better career guidance; greatly expanding opportunities for students to gain practical, workplace experience; expanding post-graduate studies to contribute to the renewal of the academic profession and the expansion of high-level knowledge and skills more generally.

Particular attention is being paid to the development of the scarce and critical skills needed for South Africa`s economic development such as the production of engineers, artisans, technicians, machine operators, project managers, and financial managers. We are also strengthening and revitalising humanities and social sciences in our universities. In the area of education and training for people with disabilities, we have made some important interventions, although much more still needs to be done. The Department of Basic Education declared 2013 as the Year of Inclusive Education to focus attention on education for the disabled.

A special area of focus has been the development of a South African Sign Language (SASL) curriculum for Grades R-12 for phased in introduction.

In the post-school space, we are also making some strides. Students with disabilities are eligible for financial aid from the DHET Disability Funding. This is for full bursaries rather than student loans and includes a component for assistive devices. The allocation to this fund is R66 m in this financial year. The National Skills Fund has provided funding for privately run non-profit institutions like the National institute for the Deaf and other institutions catering for the disabled.

One of flagship policies of the DHET is to build links between education and the workplace through the promotion of apprenticeships, learnerships, and other forms of work-integrated learning. We have also increased our focus on the placement of college or university leavers in both private and public sector workplaces. Partnerships between educational institutions and employers - including employer input into curricula - will benefit both parties. This will lead to young people emerging from their education with practical experience that allows them to fit more easily into employment. The SETAs, have an important role to play in this regard.

I`m proud to say that the state has led by example with regard to linking education and the workplace in line with the National Skills Accord. State-owned enterprises have significantly stepped up their training programmes and government at all levels is taking the need for training more seriously - sometimes in partnership with colleges or universities. Thousands of young college and university graduates are now working as interns in national, provincial and local government departments, and we have every expectation that he numbers will continue increasing.

Many private-sector companies provide good training for their own needs and some are providing training beyond their own requirements. We are encouraging all employers to do this.

Honourable members, all in all, as the President has said, we have a good story to tell. This is in contrast to the official opposition parties that want to pull stunts like marching on the ANC`s offices or try to enhance their leadership cliques with dodgy rent-a-black schemes. Honourable members, the DA leadership clique even tries to appoint a candidate for the presidency of South Africa without consulting their own members! And they want the voters to trust them to run an open, democratic government! These are the kind of things done by parties that don`t have much of a story to tell and are looking for cheap attention-grabbing tricks. It is also desperation as the DA`s own internal research points to a serious electoral drubbing this time around!

Hon. Speaker, Honourable members, we still have many challenges ahead but we can build on our success. But, today a child from a poor family is likely to live beyond 5 years, get free health care for first five years, benefit from ECD programmes, attend a grade R class, attend a no fee school with at least one free meal a day, and access NSFAS to go to college or university and become an artisan or an engineer or a professor! We have done a lot and have a good story to tell! Well done Cde President.

Thank you