South African higher education is soon to undergo "root-and-branch transformation" that includes a new programme-based subsidy system and radical structural changes to the size and shape of the sector, education minister Kader Asmal announced in his budget speech last week.
Colleges of education will be absorbed into the higher education system this year, and there will be legislation to integrate further education and training more closely into the overall education framework.
A new funding system, in which institutions receive state subsidies based on their academic programmes, will replace the current formula based on student enrolment and pass rates - as envisaged in the Higher Education Act. It will be phased in over the next few years "after careful preparation" and once a management information system is in place.
By the end of June, the Council on Higher Education, an advisory body created in 1998, will hand Professor Asmal a report on the future size and shape of the higher education system.
It is expected to recommend that many of the country's 21 universities and 15 technikons be re-aligned or rationalised to avoid regional duplication and reduce the number of deeply troubled institutions.
Earlier this month, Professor Asmal and the council announced a probe into the sector, which, they said, continued to reflect its apartheid legacy and which in some areas was failing development goals. Also, some institutions had "severe enrolment, management and financial problems".
Chaired by outgoing University of Cape Town vice-chancellor Mamphela Ramphele, who joins the World Bank in May, the council will propose ways of restructuring higher education and institutions to meet South Africa's needs and tackle "crisis elements" as well as the "general dysfunctionality of the overall system".
To the general trepidation of higher education, the council is assessing institutions' roles, missions and capacities to determine "the range and diversity of institutional types and forms, including the number of institutions necessary to ensure a higher education system that is sustainable and contributes to social and economic development".
On this year's budget, the minister reported that despite "enormous competing interests" for funds, education had been identified as a priority and allocated 21 per cent of the national budget - R3 billion (Pounds 300 million) more than last year.
The total allocation to higher education over the past three years had increased by more than R1.6 billion to R7 billion, including an increase of more than
R50 million for the national student financial aid scheme, a loans and bursary fund for poor