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Covid-19 cuts will have ‘enormous impact’, warns universities’ head

Science and innovation cuts likely to continue into 2021, says Ahmed Bawa

Budget cuts caused by the coronavirus pandemic will have an “enormous impact” on research in South Africa, the head of the country’s universities umbrella organisation has said.

Ahmed Bawa’s warning was made in a pre-recorded presentation for an online panel debate on research, education and Covid-19 on 6 July as part of the Global Young Academy annual conference.

Bawa, chief executive officer of Universities South Africa, said cuts to the country’s Department of Science and Innovation “will have an enormous impact on the research and postgraduate enterprise”. The DSI took a 16 per cent budget cut for the current financial year in last month’s emergency national budget. 

There are also indications that cuts will carry on into the 2021 financial year, Bawa added. This, combined with students who have deregistered for this academic year asking for their tuition fees back, will place “enormous strain” on universities, he said. 

The conference heard that universities in Mauritius also face financial uncertainties. Shaheen Motala-Timol, who heads the island nation’s Higher Education Commission’s regular affairs and accreditation division, said private universities are likely to see a drop in income from tuition fees, while funding for public universities could be diverted to other priorities as a result of the pandemic. 

“Research programmes will also be impacted given that external funds and grants may not be available,” she said. “The future of universities may well be at stake.”