OPINION

Why the ANC won't deliver better higher education - Belinda Bozzoli

DA MP says the ruling party is incompetent, and it is too conservative

Speech by Belinda Bozzoli MP, DA Shadow Minister of Higher Education and Training, in the debate on Budget vote of the Department of Higher Education and Training, 17 May 2018

ANC’s conservative approach is stifling development of South Africa’s higher education system

Much has changed in Higher Education in a year. We have a new Minister, a budget expanded by R57bn over the medium term, and a student body which has won major concessions on fees and more.

But will this mean the ANC government will deliver a better Higher Education system than the one we already have? The answer is no.

There are two reasons for this: the ANC is incompetent and the ANC is conservative.

Jacob Zuma’s hasty decision to grant free higher education to all students from families earning less than R350 000 a year could not be implemented in the time given – basically one month.

So thousands of naively optimistic students were led to believe that they would be funded but many have, nearly half way through the year, not yet received funding.

Some have had to resort to begging for food. Some have been thrown out of their accommodation.

Some have never found accommodation - they are sleeping in corridors and libraries. Textbooks cannot be bought. Many are walking for hours to get to and from their university or college for lack of transport money. Universities and Colleges have closed due to protests over these facts.

NSFAS blames the universities and colleges. They blame NSFAS. Students blame both. Our ANC-dominated Portfolio Committee refuses to address the issue head-on and the Minister asks us to be patient.

This is typical of the ANC – an imperialistic attitude towards the ordinary people and the Parliament that represents them. They are looked after in theory and on a grand scale, but neglected, even treated with disdain, when it comes to the daily details of their actual lives.

Zuma’s decision has added R57bn, over the next three years, to a national budget already reeling from economic stagnation, ineffective tax collection and ballooning civil service costs.

The real costs and inflation rates of higher education are so high, and the planned 70% growth of the sector to 1.7 million university students over the next few years is so massive, that there is a generalised fear throughout the sector that the funding of students this generously is unsustainable.

But the ANC avoids confronting the long-term consequences of their short-term, populist decisions.

Minister, what will happen in four years’ time when student funding requirements have almost trebled? Will even more be taken from all the other departments, such as Basic Education to pay for it?

How will we manage the disappointment of students when they find they are required to pay towards their own funding? Who will handle the apocalypse then?

At the same time, the institutions themselves will be more neglected than ever. The department’s administration is barely adequate. The Community Education and Training Colleges – designed to teach skills to half a million people - remain dysfunctional.

The revamp of the dated and ineffective TVET Colleges never happens. Failure and drop-out rates are astronomical.

The top universities may today keep their reputations for excellence, but they struggle to cope with inadequate funding, while our best matriculants leave to study out of the country.

The weaker universities are unable to supply proper accommodation, good teaching and a stable, corruption free learning environment.

While our counterparts in China, India, Ghana and Kenya have all committed themselves to a 21st Century vision for Universities, South Africa is held back by the conservative ANC, which wants to keep things going more or less as they are, while introducing slight improvements here and there and doing a bit of crisis management when necessary.

Yes, the ANC is basically conservative.

The ANC also suffers from a serious case of Tall Poppy Syndrome, uncomfortable with achievements which stand out from the norm – especially if the achievers happen to be minorities.

The government has very little idea of how to modernise our stagnant, underfunded system. While China invests multibillions in the most advanced research, teaching and infrastructure, the ANC leaves our institutions floundering, parochial and stagnant.

The much vaunted fourth industrial revolution is going to leave us standing, as we barely manage the first and second. Little hope is offered to the 9.5 million South Africans that cannot find a job or have stop looking.

South Africa’s Higher Education may soon become a lost cause. Urgent change is needed and the ANC cannot provide it. The DA can. We believe in modernisation, in academic excellence, in institutional differentiation and in responsible and reliable administration.

We will not leave students in the dark as to what is happening to them and we will not allow our institutions to wallow in mediocrity.

We want our higher education system to move rapidly into the 21st century and we know how to make that happen. The ANC does not.