In his policy debate speech on the Department of Higher Education and Training to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP), the Minister of the department, Dr Blade Nzimade, said the day of the debate gave his department an opportunity to share the successes they have notched and the lessons they have learnt as they battle with the Covid-19 pandemic and its effect on the poor.

“We now know that Covid-19 has turned the global economy upside down and brought about the broadest collapse in per capita incomes since 1870. Throughout the world, tens of millions of workers have lost their jobs and in South Africa unemployment increased by one percentage point, reaching 30.1% in the first three months of this year,” he said.

He said the South African economy is now expected to contract by 7.2% in 2020, and this is the largest contraction in nearly 90 years. Inflation will likely register 3% in 2020. He said: “In response to these challenges in our sector, we have sought to work together with other government departments, our entities, our universities and colleges, student leadership, with close collaboration with the private sector and labour to ensure that we stand united in the fight against coronavirus and its impact on the sector.”

Dr Nzimande told the NCOP that the final Special Adjustments Budget cut for the Department for 2020/21 amounts to R9.857 billion. He said the total suspension of funds amounts to R6.734 billion, of which R4.999 billion is reallocated for reprioritising expenditure towards Covid-19 activities.

The net suspension amounts to R1.734 billion for normal voted funds. He said the Adjustments Budget also provides for the reduced collection of skills levies to the amount of R8.122 billion. Based on that, Dr Nzimande said: “The department’s original allocation for 2020/21 was reduced from R116.857 billion to R107.000 billion, that represents a reduction of 8%.”

He said the biggest single reduction is on the declined estimates for the skills levy collections, from R19.413 billion to R11.291 billion, a reduction of R8.122 billion (42%). He told the permanent delegates to the NCOP that the purpose of the re-allocation of funds is to cater for reprioritised expenditure towards addressing Covid-19-related activities, including student support.

He said the budget provides for the shifting of R1.510 million within the department’s operational expenditure for Covid-19 expenditure. He said the budget cuts are mainly effected on items such as travel, accommodation, venues and related services. He said the department is in a process of amending the 2020/21 Annual Performance Plan, as well as the Strategic Plan for 2020-2025 to accommodate the impact of the adjustments.

He said all universities have submitted multi-modal teaching, learning and assessment plans to enable them to complete the 2020 academic year, taking into account the additional costs as a result of Covid-19. Funds were reprioritised by institutions from their block grants and earmarked grants to develop teaching and learning platforms to accommodate new ways of teaching and learning remotely. Universities will be stalling some current approved projects due to the reprioritisation and cuts to the value of about R3.851 billion.

He said the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) adjustments include the suspension of R2.5 billion and reallocation thereof, earmarked for student devices, but through NSFAS, he said they raised an objection regarding the suspension and reallocation of funds for student devices and the matter is currently with the National Treasury.

Dr Nzimande said NSFAS expects a decrease in the collection of recoveries due to the impact of Covid-19 on the economy. He said all key performance indicators are currently being reviewed for the Covid-19 impact, and details will be provided when available.

Although other permanent delegates to the NCOP supported the budget of the Department of Higher Education and Training, Ms S'lindile Luthuli of the Economic Freedom Fighters, who represents the province of KwaZulu Natal in the NCOP, rejected the  budget. She said the budget perpetuates the historical inequalities and deepens the suffering of black people. She said the grant that was meant for meals is now used to buy laptops.

By Mava Lukani

 21 July 2020