South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan (front) delivers his 2017 Budget Speech in Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, on Feb. 22, 2017. The South African government will be able to do more to finance an expansion in tertiary education opportunities and improvements in student funding, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said on Wednesday. (Xinhua/GCIS/Kopano Tlape)
CAPE TOWN, Feb. 22 (Xinhua) -- The South African government will be able to do more to finance an expansion in tertiary education opportunities and improvements in student funding, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said on Wednesday.
The government recognizes the needs articulated by students in universities and TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) colleges, Gordhan said while delivering his 2017 Budget Speech in Parliament.
South African institutions of higher learning have been hit by student protests over poor funding for years running.
Gordhan's speech was expected to ease tension that is still simmering at most universities.
Gordhan pledged that in addition to the increases of 32 billion rand (about 2.44 billion U.S. dollars) made in the higher education allocations in last year's budget and the 2016 Medium Term Budget Policy Statement, the government has added a further 5 billion rand (about 382 million dollars) in the outer year of the Medium Term Expenditure Framework.
The government has provided funds to ensure that no student whose combined family income is below 600,000 rand (about 45,000 dollars) per annum will face fee increases at universities and TVET colleges for 2017, Gordhan said.
"All poor students who applied and qualified for NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme) awards, and who have been accepted by a university or a TVET college, will be supported," said Gordhan.
Appointed by President Jacob Zuma, the Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training will complete its work by June this year, Gordhan said.
The Inter-Ministerial Committee on Higher Education led by Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe is engaging all stakeholders to discuss the issues, according to Gordhan.
Civil society initiatives involving business, churches and other organizations have created space for a diversity of options to be considered, Gordhan said.
The president has invited stakeholders to participate in processes that are underway so that all views are heard, said Gordhan.
"Given the magnitude of student funding requirements, it is imperative that we develop a clear roadmap towards a better higher education and training system. It must clearly indicate how society will achieve access, opportunity, financing and support for students in the university and further education sectors," Gordhan said.
He listed several broad principles which will assist in finding the way forward:
-- The government is determined to address the challenges identified in post-school education and training in a phased manner;
-- Resources will be taken into account in determining the pace with which these can be addressed;
-- The government stands ready to engage with education stakeholders and adapt financing arrangements as may be required in future years, within the scope of available resources;
-- Universities, students and education stakeholders share responsibility for improving access and quality and the diversity of higher education and training provided, within a framework of consultation rather than confrontation.
Gordhan said a growing contribution is needed from employers and industry through funding of bursaries, internship opportunities and research programmes, recognising that this is the foundation of future productivity and technology advances.
"Together, we will find a way forward that meets student funding needs fairly and sustainably, so that rising numbers of graduates can contribute positively to inclusive growth and transformation of the economy," the minister added.
Gordhan's speech received lukewarm response from students at the University of Cape Town.
Some students interviewed by Xinhua said the government made a step forward in addressing their concerns but it is not enough.
Mxilosi Gabriel, a student majoring in economics, said students want zero fee increases and free education ultimately.
"If this demand is not met, more student protests will take place," he said.