The Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training has warned of a potential crisis that might be visited upon the country as a result of the underfunding of the college sector.

The Committee, together with its counterpart from the National Council of Provinces, held a joint meeting where they received briefings on the budgetary review process of the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and its entities.

Committee member, Mr Van der Westhuizen, said the country was sitting on an extremely serious situation.

“That we saw low student activity at colleges (when university students rose during the #FeesMustFall protests) we were very lucky. The potential is there for colleges to become far more violent and the country will suffer more damages than has happened at universities,” Mr Van der Westhuizen said.

He said the country sat on a ticking time bomb and should reprioritise TVETs going forward as this is an extremely serious situation.

The Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Colleges Governors’ Council came to brief the Committees, and indicated that the situation was not improving.

“Colleges are highly underfunded and it is miracle that none has closed doors. Funding is not commensurate with government policy position by far. It is clear that the National Development Plan’s targets will not be met if there is no meaningful change in funding levels,” Mr Mabuyakhulu, TVETs Governors’ Council Chairperson said.

“Funding allocation being given by DHET to TVET sector is a clear indication of the hesitancy towards investing in these colleges,” he said.

Committee member, Prof Belinda Bozzoli, said previous reports from the department indicated that R10bn is needed in the current budget if funding challenges at colleges are to be adequately addressed.

“Perhaps we should look at the nuclear plan since it has been scuppered and see if there are reserve funds that could be put to higher education,” Prof Bozzoli said.

She said the Committee needed to deliberate on the matter and decide if it was better to ask for the R10bn budget increase, or wait until students have vandalised property – which will be costly.

Members sought clarity on whether the Governors’ Council sat at the DHET budgetary process, and if so what input it has made, especially in light of the returned funds to National Treasury and the infrastructure needs for colleges. Members also said it needed to be clarified if the funding challenge was as a result of National Treasury giving less or the department not distributing to colleges.

The Co-Chairperson of the Committees, Ms Lungelwa Zwane, said the National Council of Provinces had deliberated on the underfunding of the TVET sector and that it was recommended that a National TVET Indaba be held, where all stakeholders could be invited, as well as the private sector.

“When agreements are made in good faith and not honoured it becomes a challenge. This is an issue that needs a focused intervention that will include even the private sector,” Ms Zwane said.

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme will later give a presentation on its annual performance plan and strategic plan. Earlier in the day Minister Blade Nzimande and Director-General Gwebs Qonde attended the meeting and agreed that funding of the college sector was still a challenge. Mr Qonde indicated that although there was no infrastructure budget for colleges, strategies were being put in place to source funding intended to address accommodation challenges at colleges.

By Sibongile Maputi

3 May 2017