Equal Education says the budget by Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba tabled in Parliament on Wednesday will hurt the poor the most. This after Gigaba increased Value Added tax to 15% and slashed basic education funding.
Reacting to the budget statement on Wednesday, the education rights group said the budget hindered the poor and favoured the rich.
“The desperately-needed investment in higher education is at the expense of the basic education system. The need of poor, Black students has been pitted against that of poor, black learners,” said Equal Education in a statement.
“The crises in our schooling system [early grade reading proficiency, infrastructure, safety, and scholar transport] means that attention to spending on basic education, and implementation of programmes, necessitates greater political will, and a highly competent bureaucracy. Given our growing school-going age population, high inflation rates, and ambitious National Development Plans (NDP) goals, spending on education should increase annually, especially until historic backlogs are remedied.”
The education right’s group also said that the funds that have been allocated to the Basic Education department has suffered major blows due to cuts to school infrastructure grants.
“The provincial Education Infrastructure Grant (EIG) will be reduced from R10.046 billion in 2017 to R9.918 billion in 2018. Similarly, the School Infrastructure Backlog Grant (SIBG), which funds the nationally administered Accelerated Schools Delivery Initiative (ASIDI), will be slashed from R2.595 billion in 2017 to R1.321 billion in 2018.”
Gigaba said during his speech on Wednesday that his budget prioritised the country’s most pressing issues.
The Finance Minister told Parliament that he has allocated a total sum of R324-billion expenditure on higher education over the next three years, including an additional R57-billion to cover fee-free higher education.
“We have shown the ability to find common ground amidst a painful history and deep division, and a fearlessness of youth that has helped us to choose ourselves again and again by giving something up or taking something,” Gigaba said.
Last year, former President Jacob Zuma announced fee-free higher education for over 90% of students.
He said that all first-year students from households earning under R350,000 per annum at universities and TVET colleges will not pay fees and that returning students on the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) will have their loans converted into bursaries.
Zuma also added that students from families that earn between R350,000 and R600,000, government will pay up to 8% of the fee increases for the 2018 academic year.
During his address in the national assembly, Gigaba said the fee free higher education plan will be rolled out in subsequent years until all years of study are covered.
“This is an important step forward in breaking the cycle of poverty and confronting youth unemployment, as labour statistics show that unemployment is lowest for tertiary graduates. Higher and further education and training is being made accessible to the children of workers and the poor,’ said Gigaba.
He also mentioned that the Department of Higher Education and Training’s budget will increase at an average of 13.7%.
Of those increases, NSFAS allocations will increase annually at an average of 51.6%.
Gigaba also said that the number of undergraduate students supported by NSFAS is expected to increase from 230,469 in 2017/18 to an estimated 1,123,212 over the next three years.
Speaking to Inside Education on Wednesday, Professor Labby Ramrathan of the UKZN School of Education echoed EE’s sentiments and said that he would have also liked to see a major increase in basic education in terms of school infrastructure.
“The Finance Minister’s intention was appropriate but we want to an increase in the expenditure in education in terms of infrastructure and teacher learning resources, I think that is of an important consideration,” said Ramrathan.
Ramathan also raised his concerns and said that while the education budget was a fair budget, there are concerns in how the budget is to be used to promote teaching and learning.
Professor Felix Maringe of the University of Witwatersrand said that there would never be enough money for education.
“There will never be enough money for education. Money has to be allocated to support curriculum transformation/decolonization,” said Maringe.