Minister of Higher Education & Training, & Minister of Basic Education: Budget Address


29 Jun 2009

Hon Angie Motshekga, Minister of Basic Education
Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education and Training

Dr Blade Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education and Training and Hon Angie Motshekga, Minister of Basic Education each gave a very brief outline setting out the scope of each of their Departments, and the main strategic plans and allocations to certain priority areas. The main part of the session was devoted to questions and answers


Questions & Answers:
Q: The Minister of Basic Education was asked about the R577 million for expanding the National Schools Nutrition Programme, specifically whether this represented a new allocation, or whether this was found in the budget last year.

A: The Minister of Basic Education answered that it was “old” money that was already budgeted in the medium term expenditure framework. 

Q: The Minister of Basic Education was asked how many laptops would be distributed on 1 July. 

A: Hon Enver Surty, Deputy Minister of Basic Education, answered that over a two-year period, starting 1 July, each teacher would have an opportunity to own and use a laptop.  About 120 000 teachers had received computer training.  The most senior teachers would have the first option to get a computer.  It was up to the unions to put forward the lists of people to whom the laptops should be assigned. The Deputy Minister said that the laptop distribution was similar to the housing subsidy, in that the teachers would be told that they qualified, would be given the opportunity to buy the computer, and the Government would pay R130 per month for five years. 

Q: The Director-General of Basic Education and Training, Mr Duncan Hindle, was asked about the old programme that distributed desktop computers to teachers.

A: The Director-General answered that the desktop programme was a school-based programme, where schools would receive the computers, not the individual teachers. 

Q: The Minister of Higher Education was asked what the response was of the Chairpersons of Council on the racism report.

A: The Minister of Higher Education answered that there had not been any formal response.  However, informal feedback was being received, the report was being discussed by many institutions, and there were formal discussions between all the stakeholders. The Ministry would ensure that a formal response was received. It would like to get a response before the Higher Education summit next year. 

Q: The Minister of Basic Education was asked about the problem of losing 9 000 teachers per year.

A: The Minister of Basic Education answered that the crisis may exist in the future but was not a problem right now.  There were a lot of applications received for teaching jobs, but she did agree that there were some problems in particular subjects such as maths, science and accounting. 

Q: The Minister of Higher Education was asked what was being done about the institutions that were not using all of their funding. 

A; The Minister of Higher Education responded that it was totally unacceptable that funds were not being spent.  Under-spending related to capacity more than anything else.  The institutions that were most needing financial assistance were also those who did not have the required capacity. In these situations, the money would simply be reallocated to other needy institutions.  For example, during 2007/2008, the amount of R39 million was reallocated.  There was a related issue of whether there would be more money given to National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). It was clear that if there was to be expansion of the college sector, NSFAS was one instrument that would be used to support poor students.  Clearly, the size of NSFAS would have to be increased.  The review committee would be investigating what the extent of the problem was, and where the cut-off should be.  The bursary component must be increased. 

The Minister of Higher Education then commented about the reach of the bursary. The question had been asked how much a bursary should cover of a student’s expenses. With some students, it did not make sense to give money for education and accommodation when they could not even afford food.  The challenge for South Africa was to create a much more coordinated bursary and loan system.  There must be a much more systemised scheme in order to have a focused attention on skill development.

Q: The Ministers were asked what would be done about the disparity of standards between high schools and universities.

A: The Minister of Basic Education answered that there were challenges in the education system and that was why there was an emphasis on quality of education.  There was always a problem of the higher schools complaining about the lower schools, and even higher primaries complaining about lower primaries.  There were challenges throughout the system, not just in the high schools. 

The Deputy Minister added that in the past, the examinations were set by provinces. Currently, there was a panel that set national standards for the examinations.  The instruction was that the bar be increased, and the papers should be less predictable.  Most students who passed matric were able to acquit themselves at universities without difficulties.  There may be challenges in certain fields such as engineering.  The teacher development in terms of content knowledge had been increased.  Although much more remained to be done, the Deputy Minister was confident that the system was improving.

The Minister of Higher Education said that quality should not be compromised and quality must be improved throughout the entire education system.  When the universities complained that they were not getting qualified students, they must play a role in ensuring that capable students were able to have access to higher education, by, for example, devoting resources to academic support.  The Council for Higher Education was exploring whether there was a need to change from a three-year degree structure to a four-year degree structure. 

Q:  The Minister of Higher Education was asked where the funding for the NSFAS expansion would be sourced.

A: The Minister of Higher Education answered that the Review Committee had been asked to explore all options to increase funding.  The Ministry and Department were convinced that there were a number of possible ways to increase funding.  He was reluctant to say more at this point. However, he did say that by systemizing a bursary and loan scheme, it would be possible to access many more resources than there were at present. Areas where funds were presently not being used properly were also being identified.

Q: The Minister of Higher Education was asked whether a four-year degree programme would apply to all students.

A: The Minister of Higher Education answered that students who were capable would not be required to spend an extra year at university. There were models elsewhere in the world that catered for a similar situation. However, there was also a debate that, regardless of the performance at school, four years would be required.  Some countries had done away with an honours degree, and anyone who had finished a four-year degree was then considered competent to enter a Masters’ programme. 

Q: The Minister of Higher Education was asked if he thought there was anything wrong with the matric exemption system, and what he would change.

A: The Minister of Higher Education quipped that he would have to be careful less he said anything that would cause difficulties for the Minister of Basic Education. He said that less than 20% of South Africa’s students did receive a matric exemption. This was not a true reflection of the potential of South Africa.  This figure was skewed because of the problems that were inherited from the past. It was not true to say that people who did not get a matric exemption would not be able to succeed. Universities themselves had to do something extra, including finding ways to identify students with potential who did not get an exemption. Matric exemption was important, and students had to be pushed to assist them to do well. He reiterated that the current pass rates were not a true reflection of the potential. One possibility was additional entrance examinations to identify where potential existed. 

Q: The Minister of Higher Education was asked if he had any comments about the recent UCT developments, and the allegations of racism at universities.

A: The Minister of Higher Education answered that this was an internal matter that UCT itself would have to deal with. The matter seemed to have been settled amicably. 

The briefing was adjourned.


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