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Elections 2024: Small parties say little about HE, less on research

Image: Darryn van der Walt [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr

Small South African parties support free tertiary education but most lack concrete plans

Nearly all of South Africa’s small political parties support free higher education in their manifestoes, published ahead of the general election at the end of this month.

However, only a few—six of 112—present a plan for higher education, and only one party indicates a way forward for technology and research for South Africa.

These parties, which exclude the big three—the African National Congress, the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters—currently only hold around 10 per cent of seats in the National Assembly.

With the upcoming election expected to be the country’s most hotly contested to date, there could be room for smaller parties to grow.

Free education

Except for the Freedom Front Plus, all smaller parties explicitly entertain the possibility of free tertiary education for deserving students with certain provisos, like payback at the end of the study period. 

The Patriotic Alliance aims to fight “brain drain” by restricting emigration for students who are funded by the state for an “agreed-upon, significant space of time in recognition of the investment that the state has made”.

The Congress of the People (Cope) promises students Wifi hotspots, internet connectivity and data breaks for educational applications and websites. The party also highlights the urgent need for accommodation for students.

Former president Jacob Zuma’s newly formed uMkhonto we Sizwe party indicates it will focus on the promotion of higher education within the borders of South Africa while ensuring that all education aligns with the needs of the economy.

Student aid

The challenges associated with South Africa’s National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) have been highlighted by two of the smaller parties: the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the United Democratic Movement (UDM). 

The IFP says it will reform NSFAS by moving its administration and management back to tertiary institutions. This will ensure greater efficiency, transparency and responsiveness, it says. 

The UDM says it will “overhaul” the administrative structure at NSFAS “ to streamline the payment process for students and service providers”.

Leveraging AI

Cope is the only small party that cites plans to increase research and research output. The party believes the research and higher education sector should embrace artificial intelligence and technology tools such as ChatGPT. 

These technological tools should be used in education to enhance “teaching, personalise learning, improve learning efficiency, increase competitiveness and facilitate administrative processes,” Cope says.

Research Professional News aims to cover the science, technology and higher education promises of major political parties contesting the country’s elections in May.