Wits council calls for ‘urgent’ debate on higher education funding

19 March 2021 - 16:23
By Belinda Pheto
The Wits University council  said the higher education funding crisis is entrenched in the country’s debt and economic woes, compounded by a global pandemic and the austerity measures imposed.
Image: SIHLE MAKU/THE TIMES The Wits University council said the higher education funding crisis is entrenched in the country’s debt and economic woes, compounded by a global pandemic and the austerity measures imposed.

As students continue to fight against financial exclusion and for access to free higher education throughout the country, the council for Wits University has called for an urgent debate on the funding of higher education.

The council said the higher education funding crisis is entrenched in the country’s debt and economic woes, compounded by a global pandemic and the austerity measures that have been imposed.

“Although Wits continues with its efforts to financially support academically deserving students, the endeavours of universities are merely stop-gaps in a funding void,” the council said.

They said the university administers more than R1bn in financial aid, bursaries and scholarships annually, and commits more than R120m annually from the council budget to assist students. About 27,000 students, out of around 37,500 full-time students, receive some form of financial assistance, and they applauded the contribution from the university.

“It is not enough to solve today’s funding crisis, let alone address the systemic funding issues facing higher education and SA.”

The council said the university has consistently engaged with different constituencies regarding the financial challenges, and continues to do so.

“We have heard the calls – at Wits and across the country – for access to higher education, for free higher education and the cancellation of historical debt, and we recognise these are national challenges that cannot be solved by universities alone.”

The council said it believes quality higher education has the power to transform lives and positively impact society. Quality higher education creates new knowledge, develops the sophisticated, scarce and critical skills needed to modernise and advance our economy, and fosters socially conscious and active citizens who stand for justice and advance the public good.

It believes most South Africans appreciate the value of universities in shaping and enhancing our democracy and the role they play in shaping our world today and creating a better society for future generations.

The council said Wits occupied a special place in the hearts and minds of South Africans and had a valuable and enduring legacy. It said the university is the heart of activism that seeks a better world for all, but it cannot bear the burden of the sector and the nation on its own.

It said it works with its senior executive team to ensure Wits University remained well-governed and was duty-bound to ensure it remains financially sustainable so it can continue to advance society through quality higher education while ensuring there are doors of learning to open tomorrow.

The council welcomed the commitment of the senior executive team to enable access to higher education for academically talented students within the resources available to the university.

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