Varsities try to tackle cash crunch

The vice-chancellors (VCs) of South Africa’s 26 public universities will meet on Friday to hold a special board meeting to discuss the cash crunch facing the sector because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Universities South Africa (Usaf), an umbrella body made up of vice-chancellors, said the meeting would also be attended by chief finance officers of universities.

University of Pretoria VC Tawana Kupe, who also chairs Usaf’s funding strategy group, and Ahmed Bawa, the Usaf CEO, were tasked with guiding the the workshop. Bawa said this special gathering would “look at the factors impacting the long-term sustainability of the higher education sector, scenarios for 2021 and beyond, as well as what the future holds for the sector. “Furthermore, it was suggested to explore a stimulus package for the sector,” he said.

With higher education institutions having reopened campuses to a portion of the student population, universities have had to redirect funds to ensure that there are enough screening stations on campuses and in residences. The sector has also been adversely affected by COVID-19 and budget cuts that were announced by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni in his supplementary budget last month.

The Department of Higher Education, Science and Innovation told the higher education committee this week that about R4-billion has been reallocated “towards COVID-19 activities”.

Belinda Bozzoli from the DA said budget cuts and reallocations should be reversed, and education departments should be helped, not burdened. “The recent R6.7-billion in budget cuts and reallocations announced by the Department of Higher Education and Training, R2.3-billion cuts by the Department of Basic Education and the varying amounts in education departments in our nine provinces, will have a severe impact on learners, students, universities and TVET colleges,” Bozzoli said.


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