Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology Blade Nzimande said that he wants to prioritise infrastructure and the quality of education in rural universities.
Nzimande said it cannot be that these rural universities remain as they were under the apartheid regime.
He was speaking at the ninth national congress of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) at Nasrec, south of Johannesburg, on Thursday.
Nzimande said one of the challenges confronted by the university sector is student accommodation, because the student population at universities has grown faster than the infrastructure is able to catch up. There are currently 1.1-million university students.
But he said the higher education department has put aside billions of rands that will address the problem of student accommodation in the next 10 years — and make sure that at least 80% of the student population stay on campus, in student residences.
However, Nzimande said the problem of student accommodation was more dire in rural universities because they do not have the same options as students who are studying in urban universities.
“If you [a rural university] do not have university accommodation, unfortunately some members of our community they build some shack-like structures and charge students to stay there in an environment that is not conducive for learning. We are aware of that as government. We might not be having enough money to deal with the whole problem all at once, but it is clear that rural universities must be a priority,” he said.
Nzimande said it cannot be that because the rural universities are serving poor students. “Therefore one fo the biggest struggles which I hope Sadtu and others will support me to wage is to actually raise the level and standards of our universities in rural areas.”
There are eight universities that are classified as rural or historically disadvantaged institutions: Fort Hare University, Walter Sisulu University, University of Venda, University of Zululand, University of Limpopo, Sefako Makgatho University and the University of Western Cape.
On Monday, in a press briefing, Nzimande announced that work was already underway at some of these institutions in terms of infrastructure development. At Fort Hare University construction for a student residence to house 1 437 students is already underway. He also said that plans are in place to build a 2 000 bed student resident at Sefako Makgatho University.
The Sadtu congress ends on Saturday.
The current national leadership was nominated unopposed on Tuesday by the 1 500 delegates attending the congress. This means that the teacher union will keep its current national office bearers with president Magope Maphila, deputy president Mabutho Cele, general secretary Mugwena Maluleke, deputy secretary Nkosana Dolopi, treasurer Lindiwe Motshwane, vice-president (gender) Dorcus Sekabate, vice president (education) Veronica Hofmeester and Gloria Kgoleng who is the deputy president for sports, arts and culture.