Universities and government have once again clashed, with vice chancellors insisting they were not consulted over the implementation of President Jacob Zuma’s free higher education plan.
On 16 December, at the ANC’s national conference, Zuma announced that there will be free higher education for “poor and working-class students” from this year.
According to News24, University of Fort Hare vice chancellor Sakhela Buhlungu wrote on Facebook: “Vice-chancellors were never consulted about the Heher Commission Report and the President’s free education statement issued on 16 December 2017. Anything to the contrary is inaccurate.”
Buhlungu’s post continued: “now, the Minister [of Higher Education and Training, Hlengiwe Mkhize] is claiming that universities had an input in how the president responded to the report. That is the part that is untrue/incorrect/inaccurate.VCs were as stunned as everybody else by the president’s announcement of 16 December.”
This week, Universities South Africa (USAF) CEO Professor Ahmed Bawa saidthat the country’s 26 universities were “taken by surprise” by Zuma’s announcement.
“We have raised our concerns about the timing of that announcement and the absence of a clear implementation strategy, implementation plan and adequate roll-out time for such a significant development in the funding of our public higher education system.” USAF said education should not be used as a “political football”.
Mkhize denied this. She tweeted:
In a later comment, Buhlungu said, “Our university will embrace (free) education enthusiastically. But we ask that the government provides us with resources to employ staff, to improve infrastructure and to provide other support services. We are starting the new academic year in 3 weeks but we have not been informed what the subsidy is and what adjustments have been made for free education. As we speak, even the minister has no idea where the money is going to come from.”
University of Stellenbosch vice chancellor Wim de Villiers agreed with Buhlungu. He told News24: “With regard to consultation… I totally agree with him [Buhlungu]: there was insufficient, to no, consultation.”
In a surprise turn of events, the man who is supposedly behind Zuma’s plan, Mukovhe Morris Masutha, chimed in to the Facebook conversation with Buhlungu. He accused Buhlungu of grandstanding.
TimesLive revealed in November that Zuma was going to announce a free higher education plan in direct contravention to the recommendations of the Heher commission, supposedly devised by Masutha, who is also engaged to be married to Zuma’s daughter, Thuthukile.
News24 later revealed that Masutha was listed as a spy for the State Security Agency (SSA) during his time as a student at Wits University.
Masutha reportedly said a road map was sent to the universities.
“I am really struggling to see what the crisis is,” he reportedly said.