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Sunday, December 5, 2021

Rhodes University says fiscal constraints, financial crises, and funding challenges will lead to social unrest

Rhodes University has made a call for a national debate on the fiscal, financial and funding crises that are confronting the higher education sector in the country.

The institution said the national debate should include all stakeholders and role-players.

“The national debate will bring oversight and accountability to ensure that the necessary planning and budgeting actually generates sustainable and resilient institutional, structural and systemic results,” said chairperson of the Rhodes University Council Gerald Bloem.

Bloem said they are extremely concerned about the persistence of the funding challenges confronting the post-school education and training sector at the institution specifically, and in the country.

He said Rhodes raised objections to the budgetary cuts announced by the National Treasury in February and believes that absorbing such funding reductions is not a trivial exercise.

“All postschool education and training institutions will be negatively affected, and our public universities cannot be expected to shoulder this burden.

“These decisions will erode the institution’s own capacities, capabilities and its competences to deliver high quality research and innovation-led teaching and learning that is consistent with public engagements for transformation, reconstruction and development,” he said.

Research shows that universities have been experiencing declines in government subsidy on a per capita basis over the last few years.

According to the Budget Review, the National Treasury cut the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) allocation by R24.6 billion over the medium-term.

The cuts will consist of R19.6 billion in transfers and subsidies R4.6 billion in compensation of employees and R290.2m.

These reductions include R6.8bn on the allocation to the NSFAS for loans and bursaries, R5bn on university subsidies and R947.1m on TVET infrastructure grants.

Higher education, science and innovation (DHSI) minister Blade Nzimande announced further cuts into university subsidies in March.

Nzimande said an amount of R 3.09 billion will be reprioritised from the department’s voted funds where R 2.49 billion will be cut from university subsidies, R 500 million from technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges’ infrastructure projects and R100 million from the department’s goods & services.

This, together with government’s proposal for the regulation of tuition fee increases, the cuts in funding for research and innovation and the challenges related to student funding have driven growing concerns over the sustainability of the institutions and the sector.

Rhodes University Council replied to these cuts in April stating that effect of persistent and pernicious underfunding of the sector as a whole as well as the inability to achieve a stated policy objective of a set percentage of GDP to be invested, and the wider array of austerity measure which will cumulatively further depress the economy, lower living standards and further escalate social unrest.

“It is disconcerting that 27 years since the democratic breakthrough of 1994, we continue to remain mired in funding challenges.

“Financial crises and fiscal barriers that serve to constrain and even frustrate the realisation of the right to education for all in South Africa,” said Bloem.

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