Thoughtful activism is needed in order to transform the higher education sector. This is what University of Witwatersrand (Wits) Vice Chanclellor Adam Habib said when President Cyril Ramaphosa announced Naledi Pandor as the new Minister of Higher Education and Training (DHET) Monday evening.
“Not only does she understand the higher education system very well, she is also committed to both transformation and other social justice goals like the advancement of women. If we are going to transform the system, we need her,” Habib told Inside Education.
The announcement came as a surprise to many. A statement was released by The Presidency on Monday that Ramaphosa was to reshuffle his cabinet. Pandor would replace Hlengiwe Mkhize who took over the department in October 2017 after the former President Jacob Zuma reshuffled Blade Nzimande.
Wits School of Education Professor Brahm Fleisch echoed Habib’s sentiments. He said Pandor is an experienced and respected politician and is familiar with current issues in the higher education sector, adding, he is confident Pandor will deliver on her portfolio. “I think Cyril did very well in appointing her in the position,” he said.
Pandor’s immediate task will be to ensure successful implementation of the fee-free higher education policy. In his 2018 Budget Speech, former Minister of Finance Malusi Gigaba allocated R324-billion expenditure for higher education over the next three years, including an additional R57-billion to fund all eligible students. Fleisch said the allocation of such resources to Pandor’s department would substantially change the higher education landscape.
There were others who were excited about the appointed. The Higher Education Transformation Network (HETN), a non-profit outfit catering for graduates and alumni from various higher and further education training institutions from across the country, said they looked forward to working with Pandor towards transforming the higher education sector.
The Network’s spokesperson Sibongile Malinga said they would like Pandor to continue with the programme of transforming the higher education sector. The Network also highlighted specific areas of concern including the low number of black PhD graduates in the country; and the low number of black professors employed in the sector.
“The pace of employment equity transformation in higher education workplaces need be increased; and the minister needs to ensure salary parity across race and gender is implemented,” said Malinga.
Pandor also has to ensure she raises the profile of TVET Colleges. Judge Jonathan Heher, who headed a Commission on free higher education, identified TVET Colleges as vital skills hubs that can cater for the growing number of youths who do not qualify to study at universities.
She also has to change the perception among industry experts who view the quality of qualifications from TVET Colleges as inferior with the result that most graduates struggle to find jobs.
Pandor served in the Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe’s administrations as the minister of education. This was before former President Jacob Zuma split the ministry into basic and higher education and training in 2009. The combination of her political experience in education policy planning and management and her array of qualifications in the fields of education and linguistics made her a shoo-in appointment.
Pandora holds a BA degree from University of Botswana and Swaziland and a Master’s degree in Education from the University of London. She went on to complete her second Master’s degree in Linguistics at the University of Stellenbosch in 1997, while serving as a member of parliament.
From 1995 to 1998 she served as the deputy chief whip of the ANC in the National Assembly. She then became the deputy chairperson of the National Council of Provinces in 1998, and as its chairperson from 1999 to 2004.
She was later appointed as Minister of Science and Technology and one of her greatest achievements was leading the bids for South Africa to host the Square Kilometre Array (the SKA), located in the vast expanse of the Northern Cape province. SKA is the largest radio telescope in the world, amongst a range of other cutting edge projects.