Friday, July 17, 2009

Use Skills Fund Money For Bursaries, Says South African Minister of Higher Education

CAPE TOWN 16 July 2009 Sapa


Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande on Thursday mooted
using unspent money from the National Skills Fund to put poor
students through university.

Nzimande told an academic colloquium in Cape Town it was
unacceptable to have some R21 billion in rollover expenditure in
the fund "but at the same time complain that not enough students
can access and succeed in higher education".

He said there was a strong argument to be made to transfer some
of the money to the National Students Financial Aid Scheme since it
made more sense to support a student through vocational college
than to focus purely on job-training.

"Where does training start?"

Nzimande hastened to add that he had no intention of ransacking
the skills fund, though he believed there was an urgent need to
rethink funding for higher education as a whole.

"Don't worry, there will be no wholesale grabbing and
multiplying UCT [University of Cape Town] four times.

He said he was also in favour of creating a students' bank that
would not charge high interest on study loans.

"Honestly I don't understand why we should be paying compound
interest for people on education loans."

Nzimande addressed academics from around South Africa on the
recent findings by a panel set up by his predecessor, Naledi
Pandor, to probe racism in higher education.

The so-called Soudien report concluded that "discrimination, in
particular with regard to racism and sexism, is pervasive in our

The minister called for a "national institutional system" to be
set up to handle information on discrimination from universities,
but accepted that it would draw controversy.

"I can hear them saying there's a Stalinist who wants a
centralised monitoring system to start to curtail our academic
freedom. Not at all," he said, adding that the department planned
to use both incentives and sanctions to transform higher education.

"Sometimes you need a stick and sometimes you need a carrot."

Nzimande fingered university senates as the likely suspects
standing in the way of transformation, and said the time had come
to foster a new generation of academic.

"The immediate challenge confronting us is to encourage students
to stay longer and create a new breed of academic. We need PhDs in

Nzimande, who has made it his mission statement to enrol more
black students into higher education institutions, also called for
a central admissions system to ensure standards are applied fairly
across the board for school-leavers applying to gain entrance to

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