The following remarks were made by the DA Leader, Mmusi Maimane MP, at a media briefing at Parliament on the funding crisis in higher education. The Leader was joined by DA Shadow Minister of Finance, David Maynier MP and DA Shadow Minister of Higher Education and Training, Prof Belinda Bozzoli MP:
The Democratic Alliance (DA) believes that no qualifying student should be withheld from the opportunity to pursue higher education because they cannot afford it. The DA supports the legitimate protests of students against Jacob Zuma’s government that is failing to provide both students and institutions of higher learning with adequate funding.
The historic breach of the parliamentary precinct yesterday underscores the gravitas of this crisis and resulted in the detention, arrest and prosecution of a number of students. We urge the SAPS and National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to show both restraint and fairness in the treatment of students. We further urge student leaders to conduct their protest responsibly within the confines of the law.
South Africa finds itself at a tipping point as many young people feel that they are not receiving dividends from our democracy. Young people are being limited in their opportunities to study and find work as a result of government’s failure to fund higher education and grow the economy to create jobs.
The country now requires that President Zuma shows strong and decisive leadership. This is a crisis of his government’s making and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.
The National Assembly Programming Committee (NAPC) confirmed this morning that the House will be debating the state of higher education funding next week Tuesday following a briefing by Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande. The DA will be looking to Minister Nzimande to take responsibility for this crisis; if he cannot provide solutions he must resign.
Further to this, the DA believes that given the seriousness of the situation President Zuma must address the nation. I have therefore written to the President asking that he appear before Parliament in order to address the concerns of students directly. The crisis before us demands leadership from the President and a commitment from his government to provide relief to students.
In the medium-term budget policy statement (MTBPS) yesterday, Minister of Finance, Nhlanhla Nene, astoundingly failed to address the funding crisis and provide hope for students. Over the past 20 years university enrolment has more than doubled while funding per student head has declined from R20,187 in 1994 to R16,764 in 2014 in real terms. The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has further acknowledged that they are only able to fund roughly half of the young people who qualify for their grants.
Minister Nzimande is wrong in his assertion that no money available to increasing funding for higher education. The problem is not one of revenue, but of allocation and prioritisation. Government needs to prioritize opportunity by reducing wasteful expenditure in order to provide immediate relief to students and institutions of higher learning.
The DA will therefore be embarking on a process to use the parliamentary mechanisms at our disposal to amend the budget. Section 77(3) of the Constitution through the Money Bills Amendment Procedure and Related Matters Act of 2009 empowers Parliament as the representatives of the people to amend the budget. Yesterday students protested before us as their elected representatives to take up their cause because the Executive have failed them. We have an imperative to do this.
Our members in the Finance and Appropriations committees respectively will petition both committees when they analyse both the adjusted fiscal framework and the Division of Revenue amendment Bill to propose to Parliament that there is a reallocation of money in order to provide funding to these students.
To this end, we will write to the Parliamentary Budget Office to provide specific analysis on the shortfall in higher education and to advise how the division of revenue can be adjusted to accommodate for this shortfall.
The higher education funding crisis can be addressed so long as there is political will to do so from the ANC. On careful consideration of Minister Nene’s 2015 MTBPS the DA has identified a number of line items that we believe should be considered for potential reallocation to higher education in the short term:
- Reallocate the R2 billion gained from the sale of government’s stake in Vodacom to higher education, currently allocated to the BRICS bank
- Reprioritising expenditure within the budget, including items such: R720 million allocated to the Department of International Relations and Cooperation to offset the impact of the depreciation of the rand on foreign missions; The additional R69.7 million allocated to VIP Protection Services in the MTBPS; R67 million allocated immediately for the preparatory work on the planned nuclear build, which the DA maintains should be abandoned;
- Revenue reallocation and reprioritisation, including R1 billion from the skills levy. According to the National Treasury the higher education and training system has significant resources that can be reprioritised.
The DA would supplement this immediate saving of R3.8 billion with long term interventions aimed cutting expenditure in spending cuts in the following areas:
- Reduce the exorbitant cost of Zuma’s bloated Cabinet, currently at R1.6 billion.
- Reduce the public sector wage bill by cutting back on salaries to superfluous departments and link salaries to performance.
- Reducing losses to fruitless and wasteful expenditure as well as corruption, estimated in 2011 to be R30 billion per annum by the then-head of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) and Assets Forfeiture Unit, Willie Hofmeyer.
Addressing the funding crisis requires that government makes a decision about where its priorities lie. It can either continue to fund wasteful expenditure and mismanagement, or make a decision to invest in the future of young people.
The DA believes that no qualifying student should be left behind. We must empower young people through education to secure our democratic future.
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