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South Africa’s new government urged to invest in universities

 Image: Universities of South Africa

USAf's CEO Phethiwe Matutu outlines priorities for higher education as coalition talks carry on

The chief executive officer of Universities South Africa has urged the country’s incoming government to reverse funding cuts to universities and to fix the country’s student aid funding system.

Phethiwe Matutu’s message comes in a statement outlining USAf’s vision for the sector after the African National Congress received less than half the vote in the country’s 29 May poll, ending its majority rule.

“We take this opportunity to present higher education matters deserving priority attention in the new administration’s agenda, as education is the soul of our future as citizens and the country,” she writes in the statement, which can be read in full here.

As a new era of coalition politics dawns, South Africa’s higher education sector faces several “significant challenges,” Matutu (pictured) writes.

“In recent years, the block grant subsidies, which fund the day-to-day operations of universities including learning materials and personnel, have dropped below inflation,” she writes.

Existential threats

Mismanagement at the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has also had “serious ramifications” for the stability of the sector, she writes.

If such trends continue then “universities in South Africa face significant financial pressure and risk their financial sustainability over the medium term and even their existence over time,” she writes.

On South Africa’s ailing student aid scheme, Matatu urges the incoming government to avoid “trying out different untested policies to sustain an unsustainable model of NSFAS”.

Instead, she writes, Usaf wants the country’s new government to ensure that funds allocated to the scheme are “properly, efficiently and effectively administered”.

She highlights the need for more postgraduate funding, after policy changes introduced in recent years reduced the number of grants available for students at this stage of their careers.

“South Africa cannot afford to lose its talent to other countries due to inadequate investment in these critical areas,” she writes.

USAf’s full statement to South Africa’s new government