Address by the Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training Prof Hlengiwe Mkhize, MP at the SADC Meeting of Ministers of Higher Education, Southern Sun OR Tambo Airport
5 Jun 2012Programme Director
SADC Chairperson and Angolan Minister of Higher Education, Science and
Technology, Dr Maria Candida Pereira Teixeira
Honourable Ministers and Deputy Ministers
Directors-General and Permanent Secretaries
CEO of SARUA, Ms Piyushi Kotecha
Ladies and gentlemen,
Allow me to take this opportunity to welcome you all, and thank you sincerely for
attending this important meeting for Ministers responsible for Higher Education
and Training in the SADC region. As South Africa, we are very pleased to host
you, and it is indeed an honour and a privilege to have you here.
The reason why we requested this special meeting was to create a platform for
all of us as Ministers responsible of Higher Education and Training in the region,
to reflect and share experiences on how we could speed up the revitalisation of
higher education in the region. You will recall that Minister Nzimande proposed
this meeting at the ordinary meeting of SADC Ministers of Education that was
hosted by Namibia in 2011 and that meeting accepted the proposal. We are,
therefore, delighted to welcome you all here today.
We are fully aware that, as a region we have platforms and structures in place
that are tasked specifically to deal with these issues, and indeed, we all remain
committed to the implementation of resolutions adopted in these structures.
However, after engaging with several studies on the status of higher education in the region, particularly a series of studies produced by SARUA, we felt the need to suggest this special meeting. The purpose is to examine some of the themes emerging from these studies, with the view to develop concrete strategies for the reinvigoration of higher education in the region.
One of the key themes from these studies relates to access and the
participation rate in higher education, particularly with reference to young
people. Young people, as you are aware constitute more than a half of the
region’s population. Thus, it becomes imperative that our policies and our
strategies are responsive to the issues and challenges they face. After all, that is our main target audience.
Programme Director, the level of higher education provision and enrolment rates
in the SADC region rank amongst the lowest in the world. Studies show that
tertiary enrolments in the region were on par with enrolment rates in other parts of the world in the 1970s. By 2010, enrolments in those regions had risen by more than 20 percent compared to a mere 6,3 percent in the SADC countries.
It is apparent that our higher education system in the region is not growing
sufficiently in either size or capacity, in order to meet the demand of a
growing population of youth and to meet their needs.
Firstly, we do not have enough institutions of higher learning despite the new
public and private institutions which have been built in various countries in the
region over the last two decades.
Secondly, we do not have enough academic personnel. Besides not having
enough academics, the majority of those in our systems do not possess enough
training either in teaching or in research or both. In South Africa, only 33% of
our academics have PhD qualifications. Therefore, we depend only on 33% of
academics to produce research outputs and to supervise Masters and Doctoral
students. One result of this discrepancy is that we are struggling to produce a
new generation of academics.
Thirdly, our indigenous languages are gradually dying. We are not developing
our indigenous languages in order to make them languages of scholarship and
research. Our youth are struggling to grasp learning content because they are
taught in second or third language. The un-intended consequence to that is that, now parents start their children with English, French or Portuguese from an early age.
Fourthly, we seem to be unable to maintain and improve the facilities we
currently have, to the extent that is necessary.
All these problems have a negative effect on access to higher education and
must be tackled successfully if we are to ensure quality institutions and quality
graduates with high level of skills needed by our respective countries and the
This gathering should confront some critical questions:
In order to address the challenges facing us we need to have funding and that is also another theme of our discussions in this meeting. Simply put, where should we find money in order to meet these challenges?
- What should we do to grow our higher education system in the region, so that we increase access to it?
- What should we do differently?
- How can we operate efficiently and in unison as a region in order to build synergies in our higher education systems?
- What timelines should we set for ourselves in order to realise tangible progress?
- What implementation mechanism should we put in place? and
- Which monitoring mechanisms are we going to employ?
In discussing funding, we should not be blind to the fact that we do not stretch
the current pool of resources far enough in order to do more. Such a consideration should apply both to our individual countries and, most importantly in this meeting, to our region as a unit.
The SADC region is reported to be investing more per student than other
countries with similar levels of educational achievement and income. These
numbers refer to education as a whole and not only tertiary education.
Nonetheless, our returns on investment in higher education, seemingly, do not
compare favourably with those of other regions.
South Africa’s investment on foreign students in 2010 amounted to R1 041 168
000 on students from the SADC region; for non- SADC students it amounted
R735 761 000 and for all foreign students to R1. 78 bn.
It is a fact that previously our spending on education tended to concentrate more on primary education than in higher education. As you all know, this was due to pressures and prescripts of the World Bank, through its Structural Adjustment Programmes which discouraged investments in higher education in favour of the lower levels of education. The idea was that for the developing countries, primary education presents higher returns on investment than university education, which, by and large, was considered a luxury for these nations.
We are happy that even the World Bank has since turned away from this
orthodoxy, and that there now appears to be a consensus, both internationally
and on the continent, around the value of higher education and its contribution to socio-economic and technological development. In South Africa, our education
pipeline talks to continuing vocational-FET-High Tech-Knowledge.
Another critical question that we have to consider in our deliberations moving
forward is the question of relevance of programmes offered in our higher education institutions for the developmental needs of our region. In considering
this question we have to problematise the notion that all regions have to follow
the same development path, especially to copy developed countries as if our
development priorities are same. For instance we are a region rich in mineral
resources, and we therefore we need to build regional capacity for beneficiation,
invest in basic infrastructure and build our manufacturing capacity. Our education systems in the region must effectively respond to these priorities.
Colleagues, as much as it is a fact that we have over decades suffered
colonialism, conflicts, apartheid and many other social ills we cannot continue to
moan and lament. We should use our intellectual capabilities in order to fasttrack change and development. This gathering today and tomorrow provides us with the opportunity to begin to increase the pace of change in higher education in our region. Where do we want to be in the next twenty or thirty years and how will we get there?
Colleagues, the view of the South African government is that education is a
public good, and should remain as such. I believe that every effort must be made to increase public funding of higher education. However, government funding on its own may not always be sufficient for such a rapidly developing sector. Other sources of funding, including from public development finance institutions, private funding and donor funding, may be useful depending on the circumstances of a particular country. Furthermore, new ways of funding education should also be explored - such as graduate work schemes which allow for students to repay the costs of their studies through work after completion of their studies.
But despite all this, I believe that it is most beneficial to rely primarily on public
funding as this will give our governments stronger possibilities to shape our
education systems and maintain our sovereignty over them. Other sources of
funding can be useful, but if we allow them to dominate our budgets they will
soon dominate our policies as they have done to our detriment in the past.
Where we must rely on private or foreign resources, I believe our aim should
always be to move to a situation where such funding does not dominate. In any
case, this is an issue that we need to consider in our discussions.
The recent SARUA leadership dialogue held in October 2011 on Building a
higher education scenario 2025 for developing a strategic agenda for development in SADC, has made it clear that if the current level of investment
in higher education is continued, the region will not be able to achieve its target
of 30% tertiary enrolment by 2050 due to inadequate funding. In fact, if the
current pattern continues, experts tell us that by 2050, SADC countries will fall
even further behind other regions of Africa and the world at large with respect to tertiary enrolments.
Colleagues, we all know that our region, and the continent at large, face
challenges of underdevelopment, including poverty, unemployment and gross
inequalities, and so we certainly should not allow that these evils should be
perpetuated. We need to increase our investment into higher education and
devise strategies and mechanisms to ensure that education, and higher
education in particular, becomes accessible to all our people especially the poor.
We need to explore all the available options in this regard, and Open and
Distance Learning presents one such option. Open and Distance Learning
education offers us an opportunity to expand access and reach to people who
otherwise are not reachable through face-to-face education. We must build on
our current initiatives and expand them and we need to develop our use of new
technologies to ensure high quality distance education.
Open and Distance Learning is used internationally as a more affordable form of
education, allowing more people to access education. However, we should be
driven by developmental considerations and ensure that we respond to specific
needs of our students. This must include ensuring that they have adequate support as distance education can be a gruelling and lonely process, especially
for those who have weak educational foundations and feel isolated with nowhere to turn for assistance.
Another key challenge is to improve the quality of higher education. Quality
relates to teaching, and research. We need to make sure that our institutions
have or develop the teaching and research capacity of their staff to ensure better learning experiences for students and enhanced research performance by the institutions. Teaching needs to be creative and reflective, developing a student as a whole and not just focus on memorising and rote learning. It is through quality teaching that enrolments will be accompanied by expected student success. We also need to strengthen our quality assurance systems to make sure that the programmes that our universities offer, both through contact and distance learning, are of high quality, and meet international standards.
Programme Director, in brief, this meeting will engage, amongst other things, the findings of the SARUA study “The Future of Higher Education in SADC:
SARUA Recommendations to Higher Education Ministers” with particular
reference to the issues I have highlighted.
Positive developments include the expansion of the higher education sector in
terms of increasing enrolments and provisioning. In this regard, we have also
witnessed the growth of private providers. With the increasing demand for higher education, we need to consider private higher education and the potential role it could play in expanding access to higher education in the region. This calls for more dedicated studies into this sector to know more about its size and shape, and the policy environment that regulates it in different countries in the region. I am pleased that SARUA has already embarked on this process, and we look mforward to their findings.
Some of the challenges highlighted in the studies include issues such as
persistent low research outputs, shortage of staffing especially properly qualified teachers and lectures, inadequate quality assurance mechanisms, lack of sufficient data on private higher education and its impact, inadequate
infrastructure, as well as the overall lack of accurate and comparable data on
higher education in the region for systems planning.
Several initiatives have already been put in place to address some of these
challenges, and we need to continue to work harder and to collaborate with one
another to to ensure that our higher education systems compares favourably with the best systems in the world.
We also need to examine differentiation of our higher education system in order
to meet the different needs of our people. A differentiated system – ranging
from research universities to universities of technology (polytechnics) and
technical and vocational education and training colleges, with diversified
programmes will go a long way in meeting the diverse educational aspirations of
our communities. In South Africa we are now conceptualising all these various
institutions as part of a single, coherent, differentiated and well-articulated postschool education and training system in which the different institutions work in a coordinated and mutually reinforcing fashion to the benefit of all our people, and particularly our youth. I invite you to read our Green Paper in which our vision is set out.
A critical matter affecting both individual countries and the region as a whole is
that of articulation. To respond effectively and holistically to our challenge
requires that our higher education system needs to have a well-designed and
harmonious relationship with our schooling and vocational education and training systems. For example, there should be no dead-end qualifications in the
vocational training system; all vocational qualifications should offer the possibility of moving on to higher vocational qualifications or to university degrees. This not only opens up opportunities for capable individuals but also raises the general status of vocational qualifications.
Another important articulation issue is the articulation between educational
institutions and places of employment so that students can find real workplaces
to get experience during or immediately after the course of their studies. Such
experience is essential to producing skilled artisans, technicians, professionals or administrators. In our country we have engaged private employers, state-owned enterprises and other government departments in order to develop relationships between them and our universities and colleges. Our ambition is to turn every workplace into a training space.
Articulation is also an important issue for the region as a whole. We must aim to
achieve a situation in which a qualification achieved in any country in the region
is recognised in all other countries and leads to opportunities for further study
anywhere else in the SADC region. In this respect we need to make further
progress towards a broad, common regional qualifications framework. This will
require a lot of work and a lot of consultation in all of our countries and the
sooner we get started the better.
As important as it is for our educational institutions to prepare our youth for
employment, we must not lose sight of the fact that they must also produce
responsible citizens and contribute to the way society thinks and functions. In
order to build a relevant, socially responsive higher education system in the
region, we need to create and strengthen linkages between higher education
institutions and civil society formations in an exploration of the role of higher
education as a space for public engagement, democratisation and citizen
empowerment in Southern Africa. In this respect, we should not allow the
humanities and social sciences as areas of study to be neglected in our
enthusiasm to promote economic growth.
We must share experiences and build stronger partnerships between our
universities in the region. We need to continue to promote student and staff
mobility in the region. Our universities should embark on joint research
programmes on areas affecting our people in the region such as HIV/AIDS, rural
development and land reform, environmental studies, poverty eradication, socioeconomic inequality, democratisation and conflict resolution. The SKA project to host some of the world’s most sophisticated space research equipment is a good example of what could be achieved when we pull together as a region.
One phenomenon which ties South Africa to most other countries in the region is
cross-border higher education. In 2010 there were 66 113 foreign students in
South African universities of which 70% (46 200 students) were from SADC
countries. In line with the SADC Protocol on Education and Training, students
from SADC countries pay the same fees as South African students for tuition and
accommodation. This means that they are being subsidised by the South African
I am not raising this in order to complain as all our countries are interdependent
and the strengthening of Southern Africa economies must inevitably result in the
strengthening of South Africa’s own economy. We do not have data on South
African students who study in other SADC countries and I must admit that we
have not being encouraging them to do so. However, I think that as pressure
increases for us to expand university access for South African students, we must
look at expanding the opportunities for some of them to study in other SADC
countries. Perhaps we could use this meeting to begin a dialogue on the
possibilities in this regard. Apart from educational benefits to the students
involved, such arrangements could also contribute in strengthen the ties between our countries.
We need to drive our system in the direction where our university systems are
able to compete with their counterparts across the world. Certainly the challenges are many, and we cannot resolve them at once. We need to make
choices on possible starting points, and areas of strategic and immediate
investments, without necessarily losing sight of our long-term goal, which is to
ensure that the higher education sector in the region is fully developed to deal
with the specific challenges facing our students, our countries and our region.
We will only compete with others if we can tackle our own challenges as well as
others do theirs. While continuing to learn from and collaborating with others, we must always ensure that we set our own intellectual and developmental agendas, confidently, unapologetically and proudly.
This gathering has also presented an opportunity to have the Technical
Committee on Higher Education launched yesterday. The Technical Committee
will serve as a resource structure for the region on matters relating to higher
education, particularly the implementation of some of the provisions of the SADC
Protocol on Education and Training. Our discussions and resolutions of this
meeting should also be carried forward by the Technical Committee.
I hope that at the end of our deliberations, we will have started a process to
develop a clear plan to develop a higher education strategic framework for the
I really look forward to our deliberations.
Issued by: Department of Higher Education and Training
5 Jun 2012
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