A DRAFT white paper just released on higher education seeks to bind South Africa's fragmented post-school sector into a single system, rapidly expand student numbers and develop greater state control over funds, quality and courses.
The paper, published alongside a draft higher education bill, also targets special funding for disadvantaged - historically - black institutions and makes a permanent commitment to state loans for poor students. This paper reveals significant changes in policy thinking since the green paper on higher education was published in De-cember, indicating that the government has been swayed by opinion.
Historically black institutions will be pleased with the education department's commitment to re-dress and with the proposals to earmark development funds, but disappointed that the white paper is easier on state control. And while students will be happy with the approach to loans, they could be irritated by the refusal to institutionalise the "broad transformation forums" set up on all campuses to negotiate change at universities and technikons. Instead, an annual transformation summit will be held, and change at institutions will be monitored. "Transformation is not an option," warned Intumaleng Mosala, a chief director of higher education.
From now on higher education institutions will be expected to be more accountable and responsive to national needs. Quality across the sector will be closely monitored by a new Higher Education Quality Committee, and private higher education will be regulated. The government will use funding to steer the system towards producing the graduates South Africa needs. Institutions will have to bid for student places, which the government will ensure are filled by students who reflect the country's demographics.
"Institutions will have to show they are worth funding," said Trevor Coombe, a deputy director general of national education. There are plans for a national student admissions system, and for drives to improve research, increase the number of postgraduates, and ensure there are more black and women postgraduates and academics.
N. C. Manganyi, director general of education, said that for the first time all tertiary education in South Africa would "be governed and developed in terms of a single national law". The expanded system will cover courses in nursing and agriculture as well as higher education courses in technical and other institutions.
The white paper suggests maintaining levels of spending on higher education as a proportion of gross domestic product. "As economic growth rates rise this would result in significant real increases in expenditure," it says.