Higher education dept to invest R6.9bn in infrastructure in 2017/18

16th May 2017 By: Anine Kilian - Contributing Editor Online

Higher education dept to invest R6.9bn in infrastructure in 2017/18

Higher Education and Training Minister Dr Blade Nzimande
Photo by: Duane Daws

The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) will invest R6.9-billion on major new infrastructure developments at local universities and technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges in the 2017/18 financial year.

Addressing a media briefing ahead of the department’s budget vote debate in Parliament, on Tuesday, Higher Education and Training Minister Dr Blade Nzimande said infrastructure investment was a major focus point for the department.

“R2.1-billion will go towards student accommodation; R1.47-billion towards the refurbishment of current infrastructure and backlog maintenance; R2.9-billion towards refurbishing buildings at Sol Plaatje University[, in the Northern Cape]; and R248-million will be allocated to historically disadvantaged universities,” he said.

Nzimande added that a further R300-million had been budgeted for priority projects identified by universities.

He highlighted that the biggest challenge currently facing the DHET was the inadequate funding of the TVET college sector.  

“There can be no radical economic transformation without investment into TVET colleges. They need to absorb the millions of youths sitting at home and they need to address the skills shortages the country is facing,” he said.

Nzimande pointed out that studies have shown that 79% of TVET graduates find employment.

Twelve new TVET colleges are under construction, with two TVET campuses in KwaZulu-Natal to open their doors this year.

“One college will be opened in Nkandla and the other in Bambanani. We are focused on opening TVET campuses in rural areas that have never had post-school education facilities,” he said.

Nzimande also reiterated that the DHET was committed to finding a permanent solution to the university funding challenge this year.

“The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has made a huge contribution in terms of [helping to provide poor students] access to post-school education, universities and colleges,” he said.

Nzimande pointed out that, since 2013, more than two-million students have been funded through the NSFAS, adding that 120 000 TVET students have already received support this year.

“We are aware of the administrative challenges plaguing NSFAS and we are prioritising finding solutions to those challenge this year.”

He highlighted that the major challenges arose from the transition into a centralised system at the NSFAS office.

The Minister also addressed rumours that NSFAS would be privatised this year, stating: “NSFAS will not be privatised as long as I am Minister.”

Meanwhile, Nzimande stressed that the participation of black students in tertiary education needed to grow.

“While access and funding remain important, we need to improve participation rates by black students. We need to build capacity comprehensively to transform the institutional culture and curriculum, in line with the calls for ‘decolonisation’ of our universities. This requires us to produce a new kind of academic,” he said.

He added that the DHET had, therefore, approved the University Capacity Development Programme, which will be implemented from the start of the 2018 academic year, which will prioritise historically disadvantaged universities.

Some R900-million will be allocated for this programme in the first year, with allocations to increase nominally in subsequent years, to enable the implementation of capacity development activities at universities that are focused on student success, staff development and curriculum transformation.

The DHET’s student housing infrastructure programme is another priority area.

There is need for about 200 000 new beds to accommodate students at universities. This excludes the number of beds required to accommodate students attending TVET colleges.

Nzimande said the department was making steady progress in its joint work with the Department of Public Works to identify underused government buildings that could be converted into student accommodation.

Given the large shortages in this area, he said the country’s universities and colleges will still have to rely on privately owned student accommodation facilities.

“I, however, intend undertaking research to establish ownership patterns in this sector to ensure that there is meaningful participation by all South Africans.”