The new higher education and training minister, Hlengiwe Mkhize, will have her hands full in January explaining how President Jacob Zuma’s grand plan of providing free higher education to the poor and working-class students is going to work.
The Heher commission, which was established by Zuma, recommended an income-contingent loan model to fund higher education students, with the loans being provided by commercial banks. But he went ahead and announced that, from next year, the state will provide free education for poor and working-class first-year students.
It is not clear where the money will come from, and some people have described it as a populist move by a president with a comprised legacy.Already some vice-chancellors and students have greeted the news with caution.
So there won’t be any rest for Mkhize over the festive season. She will have to bring the different stakeholders together and explain how this plan can be implemented.
Also, she has inherited a troubled department, which auditor general Kimi Makwetu found had spent R1-billion irregularly in 2017, although Mkhize is not new to it — she was deputy minister from 2010 to June 2012.
One can only hope she will deal with the issues as vigorously as she did when she arrived at the home affairs department in March, when she had to deal with the Gupta naturalisation controversy and the suspension of director general Mkuseli Apleni, which was overturned in court.
The technical and vocational education and training colleges need to be reformed. Makwetu’s report found that some of them are not being run effectively, and some last submitted annual financial statements in 2014.
The sector education and training authorities are largely responsible for the department’s irregular expenditure. They have long been a headache for the department and require urgent attention. They receive R14-billion a year and some cannot account for their share of it.
Mkhize’s approach so far has been far from bold, though perhaps she is still trying to find her feet. But whatever the case may be, she will have to get her hands dirty and make hard decisions to turn the department around.