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  |  COSATU Press Statements

NEHAWU, SACP, SADTU, SASCO, SANCO, YCLSA, COSATU and SAUS fully supports and acknowledges the work done by the department of Higher Education and Training

13 December 2012

We {NEHAWU, SACP, SADTU, SASCO, SANCO, YCLSA, COSATU AND SAUS},being progressive organisations that are allied to the broad liberation movement, as led by the African National Congress, met with the Minister of Higher Education and Training, and senior officials of the department, led by the Director General over the last two days,11-12 December 2012.

The meeting was requested by ourselves to discuss issues relating to the Higher Education and Training sector, as this is an apex of all the five priorities of the current administration, as led by President Zuma, and it is in our collective interest that we succeed in this sector. It is only through providing our people with appropriate and relevant skills that we can change the face of our country, and as such we commend the Minister and the Department on the work already done, in a short space of time, but which is already showing impact in our communities, in promoting access and success to post-school opportunities.

Though this was part of our regular interactions with the department, we requested this meeting to discuss specific matters that have been in the public domain recently, which were of concern to us as progressive formations. These are the following:

  • The Higher Education Laws Amendment Bill.
  • The use of autonomy to undermine public accountability and transformation, and to hide corruption.
  • The migration of colleges from a provincial to a national competence.
  • The new grant regulations in relation to the implementation of the Skills Development Act.

The department also used the opportunity to brief us on the work that has been done since establishment of the Higher Education and Training Department, and the challenges faced. The meeting was characterised by frank, robust and thorough engagement.

After detailed engagements we wish to note the following:

We have noted and commend the department on the many achievements to date. These include increasing enrolments in both colleges and universities, increasing funding to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) almost four fold since 2008, resulting in the introduction of free access to education for all poor students going to FET colleges, and starting with final year students at universities. We believe that these and many other achievements point to the correctness of the decision by the President of the Republic to create two departments of education, each with its own focus.

As progressive formations we are committed to the progressive realisation of free education for the working class and the poor in line with the Freedom Charter and the resolutions arising out of the 52nd ANC national conference held in Polokwane, 2007. We will consider and reflect in detail on a taxation system of all post school graduates who have benefitted from our education system as proclaimed in the Freedom Charter.

These achievements need to be communicated properly to the nation, and in that regard we urged the department to do more. We also wish to urge our media to do more to cover more developmental issues of our country, like the strides that are being made in higher education and training, and not allow themselves to be used to perpetuate negativity all the time, as though no good work is being done in the country.

The meeting spent some time reflecting on the issue of autonomy of our universities, and after long discussion we wish to reiterate that our understanding is that autonomy is necessary for the free generation and flow of knowledge, as our institutions are centres of knowledge production. However autonomy has to be balanced against the necessity of public accountability, as these are public institutions, funded mainly from the national fiscus, and cannot be allowed to be run by errant managers as though they are private institutions.

We have noted that in many of our institutions autonomy has been used to undermine transformation, and in other cases even to hide corruption. We fully support the efforts of the Minister and the Department in intervening decisively when such becomes apparent. Accordingly, we urge them not to be deterred from insisting on public accountability and fighting corruption in our institutions.

Related to the above, we have also noted an increasing trend by those who oppose our government politically, to use our universities as centres for launching and running anti-government projects, with collaboration from some of our university leadership. While universities should foster academic freedom and a free flow of information, this should never be understood to mean a haven for anti-democratic, anti-government forces, who seek to use these to undermine a democratically elected government at all times. Working together as progressive forces that operate in these institutions, we will oppose this tendency.

We were also briefed on the latest developments around the Higher Education Laws Amendment Bills, which also seeks to clarify and tighten processes of intervention by the Minister in instances of failed governance, before an institution gets deeper into an abyss. We believe this to be correct as we should never wait until an institution is on the brink of collapse before intervening, as it is the children of the working class and the poor who suffer the most when that happens.

We have noted with great concern the threat by some of the Vice-Chancellors to petition the President not to sign the Bill into law. We wish to remind these heads of our institutions that, like all others, this Bill has followed a very public process, and most stakeholders overwhelmingly supported this Bill, as it seeks to strengthen governance in these public institutions. We also want to say to them we fully support this Bill, and we will also petition the President to sign this Bill into law as soon as possible. In addition we shall mobilise all progressive forces to expose an agenda that seeks to use institutional autonomy in order to hide corruption and frustrate transformation.

As progressive formations we reiterated our full confidence in the leadership of the Department, and pledge our full support in the work that they are doing, and commit to play our individual and collective roles in defence of, and in support of that work.

Issued by:
NEHAWU Secretariat Office

For further information, please contact: Sizwe Pamla (NEHAWU Media Liaison Officer) at 011 833 2902 - 082 558 5962 or email: sizwep@nehawu.org.za

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