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Members of the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology have raised concerns on funds, intended for colleges’ infrastructure, being returned to the fiscus.

Committee Chairperson, Mr Philly Mapulane, said it boggled the mind that this would happen when the Department of Higher Education, Science and Technology lamented lack of funding for the college sector.

“As the committee we do not take kindly when funding goes back to the fiscus. We are very concerned. The department must double the capacity that exists and make sure that it is able to implement infrastructure projects,” Mr Mapulane said.

He said it was important that in five years’ time, when one entered a college, he or she should not tell a difference between colleges and universities.

The department came to brief the committee on governance and financial challenges the college sector was confronted with. The Director-General, Mr Gwebinkundla Qonde, said R400 million was returned to the National Treasury in the year under review. He revealed that part of the challenge is the fact that the infrastructure grant was new and that colleges, as well as universities, lacked capacity to administer it.

“Considering the need for requirement for lecture halls, laboratories, practical training, student accommodation, and the colleges campuses built environment, it is quite bad that this amount had not been spent when the need is so high on the ground,” Mr Mapulane said.

He said each time the committee is briefed on this sector, it is always told of the lack of funds and that the Community Colleges resort to share facilities with schools.

Members sought clarity on various aspects of the college sector including appointment of councils that is pending, college enrolments, and the vetting of people tasked with running the colleges.

The department announced that although the finalisation of the appointment of councils was to be completed at the end of October, it will be completed soon. It also revealed that the main challenge with utilising the infrastructure grant was that the money got released in tranches.

“That explanation is very lame and not in keeping with delivering infrastructure. When you deliver infrastructure, you deliver according to how you will receive funding,” said Mr Mapulane.

The committee had earlier been briefed by the Office of the Auditor-General, which revealed that the National Student Financial Aid Scheme had received a qualified audit opinion for the year under review.

 By Sibongile Maputi

 12 November 2019