Blacks lag behind in South Africa budget

April 4, 1997


South African universities and technikons are to receive more money than they expected this year, but historically-black universities have still lost out. Funding, outlined in the budget speech of finance minister Trevor Manuel, still falls short of what institutions budgeted for, forcing cuts running into millions of rands.

When institutions discovered in December that higher education faced a real-terms decline in funding, historically white universities were the worst hit. Student loan funds were also slashed from R300 million (£42 million) last year to R250 million.

Now an extra R50 million has been injected into student loans, enabling another 9,000 to register, but still 25,000 students short of need, according to Roy Jackson, head of the Tertiary Education Fund of South Africa, which administers the financial aid scheme.

Sibusiso Bengu, the education minister, said that under the new budget R4,886 billion would be allocated to tertiary institutions this year - an increase of about R500 million on last year and an improvement of 4 per cent on the level proposed in December.

Students demonstrated against the cuts immediately universities opened their doors in mid-February, bringing many campuses to a standstill and temporarily closing four universities. Students then turned on the government and, for the first time in years, academics joined students on marches.

Professor Bengu said funding allocations were provisional and should not have been made public while he was fighting for more money for the sector before the final budget was announced. In what appeared to be a victory for protests, the government agreed to release more money.

"I don't think the government perceived the kind of reaction that it got from cuts to higher education," said an education department official.

While historically-white institutions reacted most strongly in December, the budget announcement provoked fury among historically black universities and technikons, who said the funding increase favoured more privileged institutions.

Cecil Abrahams, rector of the University of the Western Cape and chair of the group of ten historically-disadvantaged institutions, said that although they had been expecting cuts, they were bitterly disappointed about apparently being punished for taking in large numbers of poorly-prepared high school students.

Africa special, pages 10-13, Opinion, page 14

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