Poor varsities ‘unable to chip in’

HISTORICALLY disadvantaged universities are in such dire straits that they are unable to contribute to the funding shortfall triggered by the moratorium on university fee increases, says Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande.

He was briefing MPs on Wednesday on his department’s intervention plan to address protests over fees.

Universities face a shortfall estimated at R3bn after President Jacob Zuma’s announcement on Friday that tuition fees would not increase next year.

In terms of the agreement brokered by Mr Zuma, universities were also expected to dip into their reserves to make up for the shortfall. Details of where the money will come from were due to be announced on Thursday after a meeting between the Presidency and the Treasury.

Mr Nzimande said the government did not expect all of the historically disadvantaged universities to make contributions towards plugging the funding gap.

The institutions classified as historically disadvantaged include the University of Western Cape, the University of Zululand, the University of Venda, the University of Limpopo, the University of Fort Hare and Walter Sisulu University.

The government already has special funding designed to assist these institutions.

Mr Nzimande said higher education was also looking into diverting money from the national skills fund to tackle shortfalls faced by universities.

But he cautioned against the view that the national skills fund could be harnessed to make up for the shortfall, saying it should not be seen as a war chest or a ‘‘milking cow’’.

“It is not only university students who are in need, but entire youth who are unemployed. But we will be looking at the skills fund money (to fund the shortfall),” said Mr Nzimande.

The department also cautioned that university reserves should not be seen as a long-term solution to the funding challenges facing the tertiary education sector.

Deputy director-general in the Department of Higher Education and Training Diane Parker told the MPs some institutions were in a healthy financial situation, but there was no university with “outrageously large reserves”.

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