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Source: Department of Education
Title: Pandor: SASCO National General Council
Address by the Minister of Education, Naledi Pandor,
MP, at the SASCO National General Council, Johannesburg,
President of SASCO, Mothupi Modiba,
Delegates, comrades and friends,
I am pleased to be given, once again, the opportunity to address a
national gathering of student leaders and, in particular, to
contribute to the ongoing debate on how we might improve higher
education’s contribution to national development.
Last year, I recollect addressing South African Students
Congress’ (SASCO) annual meeting and reminding you of the
proud history of the organisation of battles won and battles still
to be waged, organisational shortcomings and your future
I am extremely pleased at reports that progress has been made, your
popularity on campus increasingly restored and that your recent
campaign focus on student services has been a success.
At a recent meeting of national student leaders and SRC presidents,
I said that: “Education and quality public higher education
in particular, has immense potential to contribute to the
consolidation of democracy and social justice, and the growth and
development of the economy”.
It is important to assert this perspective because our predilection
of generally talking down higher education poses unwelcome threats
to the strengthening of higher education.
We are fortunate in that we have a higher education system that is
an asset, both for individuals for the nation and for Africa. The
skills, creativity and research developed through higher education
are a major factor in our success in creating jobs and in our
prosperity. It is necessary to ensure that while we consistently
and correctly advocate transformation we also should strive to
jealously guard our gains and our universities.
None of you need to be reminded that in many countries in the
region universities are in a crisis of decline and often stand
challenged and neglected by governments. Given the role
universities play in promoting and strengthening intellectual
development and critical inquiry we must attend to their needs and
to the areas of change we wish them to address.
This is because universities play a vital role in expanding
opportunity and promoting social justice. The benefits of higher
education for individuals and societies are far-reaching. On
average, graduates get better jobs and earn more than those without
higher education. Countries with a strong university research
tradition also boost their GDP levels positively.
We can be proud of our achievements in higher education since 1994.
The number gaining degrees has doubled in the last decade.
Completion rates for students are beginning to improve. More
overseas students are studying here. Our research capacity is
strong and sometimes even world class.
It is in this context, that I wish to reflect with you today on
some of the progress we have made in achieving the ideals of the
Freedom Charter, the challenges we continue to face, and the
different mechanisms there are of responding to these
Since 1994, we have enhanced the democratisation of higher
education governance and enshrined in law the rights of students to
have democratically elected representation in higher
Improving access has also been one of the key thrusts of education
reform since the democratic elections.
Enrolment of female learners in higher education has increased from
44% in 1994 to 53% in 2003 and black students account for over 72%
of enrolments in higher education.
We have also begun to remove the geo-political footprint of
apartheid planners through the reconstruction of the further and
higher education systems.
In further education and training (FET) institutional reform has
been achieved with the formation of 50 FET colleges from 152
technical colleges and 21 higher education institutions from 36
universities and technikons, some of which bring together
historically black and historically white institutions.
The development of planning, funding and quality audit instruments
has provided us with a range of mechanisms that support our
continuing efforts to transform higher education.
Despite these positive developments, higher education in South
Africa is confronted by a number of pressing sectoral
The key challenges facing the South African higher education system
remain as outlined in the White Paper: “to redress past
inequalities and to transform the higher education system to serve
a new social order, to meet pressing national needs, and to respond
to new realities and opportunities.”
The first challenge is to ensure that increasing tuition fees do
not diminish access to universities. As Martin Hall says in a
recent Cape Times article the sector may benefit from the
development of a national framework policy on university fee
increases. Urgent attention needs to be given to this
The subject of funding higher education is receiving attention from
government. The Department and the National Treasury are
undertaking a study to review funding trends in higher education
and to assess the resource and financial implications of service
delivery requirements for the sector.
While this is ongoing, I know that many of you are anxious about
the cost of higher education and the extent to which increases in
tuition fees prevent access to higher education.
In this regard, I will continue to engage with our higher education
institutions to find mechanisms of managing the cost of going to
universities. We need to find a solution that allows us to address
costs as well as access.
We face hard choices on funding, quality and management. We know
that universities are struggling to employ the best academics,
because of the loss of academics to other systems and to the
science councils. We also know that there is an investment backlog
in teaching and research facilities.
The second challenge is to improve the quality of academic life for
students in higher education.
As student leaders, you are the interface between students,
academics and institutional managers.
Among your tasks, you must identify the best possible ways to
enhance the quality and experience of academic life of all
Higher education should not merely be the shortest route between
school and a profession.
Higher education must also produce graduates who are whole
citizens, who will contribute to the economic and social
development of our country. The National Plan states that
irrespective of the balance in enrolments, the key issue is to
ensure that all graduates are equipped with the skills and
competencies necessary to function in modern society, in
particular, computer literacy, information management,
communication and analytical skills. In this regard, the quality of
the higher education system as a whole needs to be improved.
In this regard, you will be challenged to ensure the best use of
resources at your command. The best use of resources provided to
SRCs, most of whom are SASCO led.
As leadership issues of success, character of academic programme,
comparability of standard and quality should be your concerns and
not distant policy issues. Access to resources should mean that you
are able to provide better services to those that you lead.
One specific challenge in this regard is student health in general
and HIV and AIDS in particular. I note that you have dedicated a
full session to HIV and AIDS and its impact on students and the
necessary response it requires.
The Higher Education and HIV and AIDS programme is a departmental
programme managed and co-ordinated by Higher Education South Africa
Starting in November 2005, the European Union-funded phase of the
programme, amounting to €20 million, will be implemented over
a four-year period.
The programme is the higher education sector’s response to
HIV and AIDS, designed to enable institutions to prevent, manage
and mitigate the impact of HIV and AIDS.
The Programme will promote the provision of appropriate and
sustainable services and programmes for both staff and
The programme steering committee, which is chaired by the
Department and is to meet twice yearly, will also comprise student
representation as invitees to ensure that appropriate support is
Chairperson, in conclusion, you need to continue to build a strong
organisation for the pursuit of the goals and objectives of the
Freedom Charter. The challenge for SASCO is to strengthen its
structures and membership so that it actively pursues this project
of change to its logical conclusion, which is the fundamental
transformation of South Africa and our higher education practices
In closing, let me remind you, as I did last year, that student
leaders must be at the forefront of strengthening student
governance and management, by ensuring that you subscribe to
visible and exemplary good governance and management
I wish you well in your deliberations over the next three days. I
urge you to work hard towards our goal of building a quality higher
education system appropriate for our country and society, and for
the 21st century.
I have not made reference to several matters of significance that I
hope you will focus upon in future. Of importance among these is
the critical issue of higher education on the continent and the use
and development of student organisation to build active support for
New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) and the
realisation of Africa’s strategic objectives.
As you know we are still truncated by our Anglophone and
francophone inheritance, we need to bridge these boundaries and to
ensure that as students we begin to assume a strategic role in the
positive advance of the continent.
Finally the challenge of a developmental state requires careful
scrutiny of the relations between university and society’s
progress. These brief sets of challenges pose a significant agenda
for the leadership and your members. I look forward to seeing how
your programme of action will respond to them.