Funding matters pre-dominate USAf Board discussions at first sitting for 2018

Published On: 6 April 2018|

Concerns over financial stability of the public university sector once again dominated debates at the first ordinary sitting of the Board of Universities SA on 20 March. These concerns were precipitated by the fee-free higher education dispensation — suddenly announced in December 2017 and closely related to it, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) response to the Government’s new bursary scheme. Other concerns were raised over the potential impact on universities, of the 1% VAT increase announced in the Budget Speech in February, and which came into effect on 1 April 2018.

The Board decided that the Funding Strategy Group would investigate the VAT impact on individual universities and the sector as a whole, and report back at an appropriate time. Furthermore, the Board requested the USAf Office to expedite the release of the Regulatory Framework on Tuition Fees report, to enable public universities to engage with the content and understand the extent to which the framework would impact the tuition fee regime.

Stellenbosch University (SU) has already established that the 1% VAT increase will have a R24 billion impact on the university, Prof Eugene Cloete (far right), DVC: Research, Innovation & Postgraduate Studies, who attended the Board meeting as a proxy for SU’s Vice-Chancellor, reported on 20 March.

Still related to financial sustainability of universities, institutions’ ability to meet their 2018 enrolment targets was also discussed. This, after some universities reported a decline in the numbers of first-time-entering students and a drop in numbers, in others, of returning academically qualified students. The Board tasked the USAf Office would collate registration data from universities and analyse it to corroborate the expressed concerns; to establish the extent of the problem across the sector and to determine the type of dispensation needed with the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) within the context of the 2018 enrolment targets.

Prof Thandwa Mthembu (middle), VC at the Durban University of Technology, chairing his first full USAf Board meeting since he took over the reins in January 2018.