UNDERSTANDING THE HEHER COMMISSION ON HIGHER EDUCATION AND TRAINING V - CONCLUSIONS

This brief is the fifth in the series dealing with the analysis and proposals contained in the Heher Commission report.

 

There is inevitably much detail in the Commission’s 752 page report that is not covered in the preceding four briefs, but they do outline the main features of the funding proposals.  This final brief draws conclusions from the analysis.

 

  1. It now appears that the National Development Plan targets of 1.6 million enrolments in universities and 2.5 million in TVET colleges is not achievable.  The International Monetary Fund’s growth projection for South Africa implies an average annual growth rate of 1.7 % per annum between the beginning of 2017 and the end of 2022.  A rapid acceleration of growth as the next decade progresses would help, but we cannot take it for granted.  Fiscal constraints are already great and low growth will continue to limit the resources available for higher education and training, even though the sector is an apex priority.  The Commission views downward revision of enrolment targets as inevitable.

 

2.       The Commission’s recommendations will be controversial, as is already apparent.   The Daily Maverick reported on 13 November that the President appears to want to bypass the Commission’s recommendations. It’s been reported that he plans to introduce grants to cover free higher education for students from households with an annual income of up to R350 000, beginning in 2018.  The initial cost will be up to R 40 billion per year, and officials have been instructed to find the money required.  ENCA reported on 14 November that Sasco, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), and Democratic Alliance (DA) student organisations have rejected the report.  The Ikusasa Student Financial Aid Programme (ISFAP) has released a statement, saying it does not support the recommendation of replacing the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) with an income contingency loan (ICL) system.

3.       The Commission has recommended that a careful costing and actuarial analysis of the various recommendations in this report be carried out. The tendency to develop policy without costing it prior to publishing should be avoided.  It has not fully followed its own advice.  The actuarial analysis was commissioned as late as 20 March 2017, and it relies on simplified assumptions.  The hard work of balancing interests has yet to begin.

4.       As the Commission points out, special attention will have to be paid to TVET colleges if their enrolments are to overtake university enrolments within the next decade.  TVET colleges and their students will have to focus all their energies not to be drowned out by the more prestigious, more articulate and noisier university interests. 

5.       At the end of the day, no-one – not the National Treasury, nor the Department of Higher Education and Training, nor universities, nor TVET colleges, nor students – are going to get what they want, and the route towards the necessary tough compromises remains as difficult as ever.  A group of academics, represented by Professor Vally, submitted to the Commission that decisions should not be left to experts, advisors, consultants and the agents of institutions that represent a narrow fiscal driven approach to the provision of public goods like higher education.  But outcomes will be determined by the interaction of desire and constraint, and optimizing will require much technical work.

In short, a luta continua. 

 

Charles Simkins

Head of Research

charles@hsf.org.za