Institutions of higher learning have suffered nearly R800 million in protest damage in the past three financial years alone. This was confirmed by Minister of Higher Education and Training, Naledi Pandor, in 2 detailed replies to DA parliamentary questions.
This is not even the full cost of this period, as Universities and Colleges have also had to bear the costs of extra security, repeat classes and exams, and many others, while many students have lost considerable study time as a result of long closures of their campuses.
Campus protest is not new – in fact over several decades student protests have been characterised by destruction of property, intimidation and clashes with security providers.
The surprise announcement of expanded funding in December last year did nothing to halt the damage. It was hasty and ill considered. As a result the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has been unable to cope with a flood of extra applications and qualifying students, with tens of thousands having not yet received their funding over half way through the academic year. And so the protests have grown rather than subsided during 2018.
We deplore the use of violence to solve problems, and we will be urging institutions to press charges for illegal acts upon University campuses. But we also are appalled at how badly government has managed the funding crisis, partly a result of their own indecisiveness over a long period, followed by an impulsive decision in December 2017 to expand funding to all whose family income was below R350 000.
Because of this chaos, funding applications for 2019 have now been put on hold. This will probably lead to a logjam in applications in the last quarter of the year, causing great distress to new students and their families. This will also increase the possibility of more protests.
The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) must immediately make public the timeline for opening applications, and the action plan for ensuring that the government’s confusion does not collapse student funding entirely.
University and College campuses suffered over R786 million in damages, with the worst hit being North West University (R198 million), University of Johannesburg (R144 million) and University of KwaZulu-Natal (R101 million). These three institutions together account for over half of the total losses.
Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges suffered R13 million in damages.
Since the start of the 2018 academic year 12 universities and 11 TVET colleges have experienced protests and damage. Now the Minister and NSFAS have finally conceded that former President Zuma’s decision, made without consultation, has crippled NSFAS.
It is not sustainable for young South Africans to have to place their future studies and employment on hold while the ANC struggles to come up with a credible policy for funding universities and TVETs. It is time our Higher Education institutions once more became peaceful places where learning can take place without hindrance.
The DA believes that investing in higher education will translate to more job opportunities and a boost to economic growth. Our country needs the kind of change that ensures that student learning is prioritised.