Rhodes VC speaks of higher education’s chronic underfunding

Taken from Rhodes University's website

Rhodes University vice-chancellor Sizwe Mabizela and executive director of infrastructure operations and finance Iain L’Ange gave a presentation on higher education to Rhodes staff and students on September 20. The presentation was made a day after Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande’s announcement concerning the 2017 fee increment.

Mabizela introduced the presentation as a reflection “of where we are as a university”. He emphasised that “we have an obligation to ensure that each one of our students has the best educational experience. There are many challenges that we have to address but one thing that we can never compromise on is the educational experience of our students”.

Mabizela went on to speak about some of the significant challenges that the higher education system is going through. He said that “these challenges arise out of the chronic underfunding of our higher education institutions. Over the past 20 years or so enrolment in higher education has increased but government subsidy per student has not”. Mabizela said that these were the reasons why universities have had to increase their student fees. However, he acknowledged that they had become unaffordable and inaccessible to many students.

Mabizela explained that there are two main sources of revenue for universities; state funding and student fees. He acknowledged how no fee increment for 2016 had created significant financial challenges for the university which affect the continued running of the university. Mabizela also said “we have to ensure that our university remains strong and sustainable”.

Then L’Ange took over. In his presentation, he showed statistics concerning how many students had not paid up their fees. L’Ange also showed how the university’s financial struggle was related to insufficient government funding as it was not enough income to subsidise the 0% fee increment for 2016. He highlighted that there was a “clear” decline in state funding. L’Ange then read portions of the Ramaphosa report of 2013 arguing that the South African government spends too little on higher education funding compared to other countries.

Mabizela concluded by saying that “we have to do things differently […] even the darkest night gives way to light […] will end and the sun will rise.” Then he addressed the minister of higher education’s announcement by saying that “we must advantage the disadvantaged […] therefore any argument that you want across the board zero percent increase in essence is saying we want the tax payers to cover a fee adjustment for the rich”.

After the presentation, the floor was opened to questions. An audience member asked: if the university is facing a financial crisis, where did the funds for the CCTV cameras come from? Then a staff member of Rhodes University thanked Mabizela for the interdict. At which the discussion became unproductive as a disagreement about the interdict ensued between the staff member and students. Mabizela proceeded to thank everyone for coming and ended the meeting.

Written by: Nokwanda Dlamini