/ 16 January 2015

Multimillion rand grant scheme for black universities

Minister for Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande also defended the the construction of a new college in Nkandla
Higher education minister, Blade Nzimande. File photo

A “backlog of underdevelopment” persists at the country’s historically black universities, and now the government hopes its new multimillion rand grant scheme will help turn things around.

Higher education and training minister Blade Nzimande revealed the grant at the University of Johannesburg on Friday, where he met representatives of student organisations, higher education groups and unions aligned to the ANC.

“A new Historically Disadvantaged Institutions (HDI) Development Grant of R410-million per annum has been introduced from 2015/16 to 2020/21, totalling R2.5-billion over five years. [This] will assist in developing the historically disadvantaged universities,” Nzimande said.

“The overall purpose of these funds is to put in place systems to develop and ensure the sustainability of a financially healthy situation at the university, and to enable the university to strengthen its academic enterprise and fully realise its potential, taking up a sustainable position within a differentiated higher education system.”

The dominantly black student tertiary institutions, which include universities of Fort Hare, Zululand, Venda, Limpopo, Western Cape and Walter Sisulu, are considered historically disadvantaged. This is because the apartheid government treated them less special than white universities.

Battle on output
Even to this day these institutions battle to compete with historically white universities, such as University of Cape Town and Wits University, on output.

“The backlog of this underdevelopment is yet to be overcome and that is something we keep an eye on while we seek to fulfill the requirements of the National Development Plan at the same time,” said Nzimande.

“In our work, we always strive for equity even if sometimes that means the allocation of resources in favour of historically disadvantaged institutions.

“As you all know, there is still more we should be doing, not only to correct the sustaining wrongs of the apartheid system but also to drive development, as we should normally do regardless of the unequal past from which we come.”

Nzimande said the black universities are already scoring more from his department’s infrastructure development allocations. Of the R1.6-billion channeled to universities to build and refurbish student residences during the 2012/13 to 2014/15 financial years, “the bulk, i.e. R1.4 billion” went to historically black institutions.

“Funding infrastructure, especially for historically disadvantaged universities, remains a priority,” said Nzimande. But the allocations haven’t solved student accomodation problems at the institutions. “There is a vast shortage of beds in the system,” Nzimande said.

He called on those in the meeting to “take collective responsibility for the stability and progressive transformation of the education and training sector”.

“Our biggest headache is the pace of transformation, especially at the universities. We are addressing the problem but as you know this is a societal problem and needs the attention of everyone.”

Turning the spotlight to the struggling technical and vocational education and training (TVET), formerly further education and training colleges, Nzimande decried that universities are not significantly playing a role in the production of college lecturers.

Poor quality of lecturers
Nzimande said poor quality of lecturers was “one of the current weaknesses” in the college sector. But yet, “faculties of education have traditionally focused on the education and development of schoolteachers, and on research and development work focused on the schooling sector”.

“The education and development of lecturers for our TVET colleges, and educators for the adult education system has not received much attention.

“Our universities have to play a much stronger role in developing teachers for the post-school education and training college sector, and to conduct research and knowledge development for these sectors. This is vital, given the need to substantially grow these sectors and enable wider and more appropriate education opportunities in the country.

“The department will seek to partner with faculties of education to make this happen. We would like to see post-school education and training become a strong focus area for faculties of education. The ability of education faculties to develop teachers for this sector and conduct research leading to knowledge development for this sector must be substantially increased.”

Speaking to journalists, Nzimande defended the construction of a new college in Nkandla, President Jacob Zuma’s hometown. It is one of three colleges being built in the country.

“By the way, [This is] the first TVET college in Nkandla. In case we forget the real Nkandla, not the one [the media] normally writes about, if I’m not mistaken is the single largest rural settlement in KwaZulu-Natal and did not have a campus of any post-school institution.”