OPINION

Govt needs space to weigh up fees report proposals - Hlengiwe Mkhize

Minister says policy decisions ultimately made must lead to sustainable solutions

Address by the Minister of Higher Education and Training on co-operation with The Islamic Republic of Mauritania and the release of the Fees Commission Report

14 November 2017

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen of the media, and thank you very much for joining us at this briefing.  Please allow me to start the briefing by introducing to you a distinguished visitor — Dr Sidi Ould Salem, the Islamic Republic of Mauritania’s Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, who will be part of this engagement.  Dr Sidi Ould Salem and his team are in South Africa to explore opportunities for co-operation between our two countries in the areas of scientific, technical and vocational training, as well as English language tuition. 

Our meetings, which started yesterday and end today, represent a significant strengthening of the already very cordial ties between South Africa and Mauritania as a key member of the Franco-Arabic speaking group of Maghreb countries.  In that regard, I am delighted to host Dr Sidi Ould Salem, as we explore focus particularly on how South Africa may be able to assist Mauritania with the teaching of English language, and on deepening research collaboration between our two countries. 

We are also both very confident that our exploratory talks will not only lead to greater co-operation between our two countries in the fields which we as Ministers take particular responsibility for, but also go a long way in advancing much needed co-operation between the Maghreb and Southern Africa more generally. Ultimately, our people can only benefit from the enhanced exchange of capabilities, technologies and knowledge which will result from this visit. 

Just for your information ladies and gentlemen of the media, we kicked off our engagements yesterday with two site visits to the Ekurhuleni West TVET College on the East Rand, and a tour of Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University in Ga-Rankuwa. Earlier today, we attended a Skills Dialogue which I hosted, before we had a meeting with university vice chancellors at the Universities South Africa (USAf) offices here.  

Allow me now to move on to the issue of the release yesterday of the Report by the Heher Commission of Inquiry into the funding of higher education and training, before we take a few questions.

On the release of the Heher Report

Yesterday the President released the Report by the Heher Commission of Inquiry into the funding of higher education and training. I welcome its release.

The Commission makes a number of recommendations across a range of issues, including recommendations on how to fund students across universities and TVET colleges as well as on strengthening institutions and the education they provide to our citizens.  The President’s press release summarises some of these findings very well and I will not go into them in any detail.

The Inter-Ministerial Committee on Higher Education Funding led by Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe, and the Presidential Fiscal Committee led by Minister of Finance Malusi Gigaba have been tasked by the President to process the report in detail. I will work closely with them as we unpack the recommendations in the 752-page document.

We welcome the Presidency’s decision to release the report to the public. This will provide an opportunity for the academic, student, and broader communities to study it and to familiarise themselves with the detail of Judge Heher’s findings, proposals, and alternative scenarios. This will ensure that comment and discussion can take place against an informed backdrop and not on the basis of speculation.

I want to be clear. The Report received from Judge Heher and his co-commissioners, Advocate Gregory Ally, and Leah Khumalo, provides Government with recommendations on a wide range of issues dealing with higher education and training, including university education and technical and vocational education and training (TVET).

The Commission has done considerable work processing information and views from a wide range of sources to inform their recommendations. However it is very important that all of us – the public, students and institutions – fully understand that the report does not pronounce on anything. It does not contain decisions. It provides Government with recommendations only. Decisions still have to be made by government.

Government must have the space to conduct a thorough due diligence and to weigh up all aspects of the proposals, including their possible knock-on effects, so that the President can announce a way forward which is able to ensure that we empower future generations of young people through knowledge and skills, thereby empowering their families and communities too.

The policy decisions we make, having considered the recommendations in the report, must lead to sustainable solutions that will endure for many years to come. As a country, we have to move from the ad hoc situation we have had since 2015, to more certainty about these matters going into the future. 

In closing I appeal to all constituencies, especially student leaders and management, to ensure a peaceful end to the academic year, including allowing examinations to be completed without disruption. The security and safety of staff and students on our campuses must not be compromised, the right of almost a million students across the country to conclude their academic year and get on with their lives cannot be sacrificed when we are so close to a resolution of the fees issue.

Issued by DHET, 14 November 2017