By Gaby Ndongo (4 mins read)
Recurring protests destabilise governance at tertiary institutions, making it difficult to deal with the issues at these establishments, said the higher education minister on Thursday.
Complete shutdown protests have unraveled in universities across the country from the Durban University of Technology (DUT) to Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University in Pretoria.
At DUT, a student was shot dead by a security guard as students remonstrated for, among other demands, better residence conditions and effective distribution of student allowances from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).
Students from Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University protested for the removal of the vice-chancellor and executive management members. They also raised concerns about the lack of infrastructure on campus.
“We are saying, ‘Yes, people must protest’,” higher education minister Dr Blade Nzimande said when speaking to eNCA’s Voyo Mvoko.
“But one of the biggest challenges we have is actually to stabilise governance so that we can have institutions that are able to respond to the many many challenges that we actually have,” he explained.
Nzimande further said the government will be putting aside R80bn for NSFAS. For the year 2019, a total of R1.5bn will be spent to support research and students at postgraduate in universities.
“That is not enough if also people who are using or who are in the system do not ensure stability. One thing that continues to worry me is this thing of just protesting and disrupting academic activities,” he said.
However, the democratic government has created “institutions like university councils, where everybody is represented – your professors, your workers, your students – so that they are able to deal with these problems,” the minister explained.
Nzimande said he is committed to work with all “crucial stakeholders” in tertiary education.
Insufficient allocation of funds to research and development pose as an obstacle to South Africa becoming a leading player in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), said the minister.
“Our investment into research and development as a percentage of our Gross Domestic Product is still low at about 0.8%,” he added. This is “one of the challenges facing my department as well as the government as a whole”.
“In terms of the *National Development Plan, we should be taking that to 1.5%,” said the former minister of transport.
His predecessor, Minister Naledi Pandor, established a Ministerial Task Team on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) before the national election, which occurred in May.
The team is tasked to provide “critical policy advice on how our Post-School Education and Training (PSET) system should respond to opportunities and challenges presented by the 4IR,” read the recent higher education department’s budget.
In particular, the advice regards “issues relating to curriculum development, science and innovation.”
President Cyril Ramaphosa established a Presidential Commission to investigate the 4IR. The Commission brings to the table of discussion relevant experts and government departments.
Its findings will be used as a blueprint and plan of how the country should deal with the 4IR. This is done in the aim of placing SA in the leading position rather than that of an adopter as is the case with the previous three revolutions.
Way to go
More support has to be channeled to postgraduate students “because it is your masters and PHDs which are the basis for and in order to be able to take our economic forward”, explained the Minister.
To facilitate such, there needs to be an institutional landscape that responds to the demands of the 4IR.
The second part of a review – on whether the country has the institutions of training and conducting the required research – is being conducted by Nzimande.
Democratic Alliance member of parliament and shadow minister of education of higher education, Belinda Bozzoli, said in response to the recent higher education department’s budget that “the ineffective and floundering bureaucracy which is higher education will prevail and science will suffer”.
Nzimande mentioned that there has been investments in “a small but growing” local vaccine industry that produces vaccines needed in South Africa and the rest of the continent.
On the other hand, one of the innovations is the production of hydrogen fuel cell from platinum.
It is “an alternative to the fuel that we are using now, and it is much more cleaner”, according to Nzimande.
Furthermore, SA is ranked number 62 in the global ranking. “If you’re to compare us with other developing countries, we are much much higher. It means that we do have a potential and there are certain things that we are achieving,” said the minister. TOJ
*The National Development Plan “aims to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030.
“According to the plan, South Africa can realise these goals by drawing on the energies of its people, growing an inclusive economy, building capabilities, enhancing the capacity of the state, and promoting leadership and partnerships throughout society,” read the South African government website.
Reporting by Gaby Ndongo. Feature image consists of a protestor carrying a placard written “Asinamali khoka NSFAS(S);” translating to “We do not have the money, pay NSFAS(S)” in the Courtyard at DUT’s City Campus on Monday 4th February 2019. Image courtesy to Nkosingiphile Dladla.