SA needs more universities, says Nzimande

Thursday, October 31, 2013

By Nkosinathi Sengwayo

Mbombela - Building more universities in South Africa will help ease the burden that many prospective students face when enrolling for further studies, says Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) Minister Dr Blade Nzimande.

Nzimande was addressing more than 2 000 delegates and community members who attended the launch of the University of Mpumalanga (UMP) at the Lowveld Agricultural College in Mbombela on Thursday.  

"A recent review indicated that only about only about 20.7% of all applicants to universities - including UNISA - were placed in 2010. It is clear there is significant demand for higher education in our country," said the minister.

Nzimande said the launch foregrounds a number of important policy and programme developments under the ANC-led government.

"Our aim is to meet the National Development Plan goal of increasing higher education participation from 17.9% to 30% by 2030. This we will do in the spirit of our many other educational achievements since 1994.

"We have invested massively in university infrastructure since 2007, and are committed to a further R6 billion over the 2012 to 2014 Medium Term Expenditure Framework."

The minister said the establishment of UMP will require a further investment of approximately of R7 billion over the next 10 years.

"Therefore as government, we will continue to transform education aggressively. The establishment of this university is but one indication that we are determined to bring education to all the people."

Nzimande said higher education institutions contribute to national development.

"Universities play a crucial role in preparing students for the labour market through teaching, learning and professional development. They facilitate the acquisition of high-level skills.

"As a comprehensive institution, the University of Mpumalanga will provide teaching and learning opportunities through general and technology-focused undergraduate programmes through diploma and bachelor entry qualifications, and strong post-graduate programmes in niche areas."

He said universities also provide leadership through research and knowledge creation in critical areas of national development.

"This will be crucial for the University of Mpumalanga whose researchers we expect to engage in areas such as provision of rural infrastructure, agriculture, food security, tourism development, health and well-being, education and environmental management."

The minister said universities were not about buildings, but about the cultural and economic life of the community.

"We therefore expect no Ivory Towers here but rather an institution accessible to all, particularly the rural communities of Mpumalanga, where some of this university’s research will be done. It is from these communities as well as from across the country that it will draw its students. Therefore, there should be engagement at all levels of the institution."

The minister added that universities were important in the reproduction and transformation of the society.

"At the University of Mpumalanga, learning and culture should embody democracy and social justice, whilst contributing to transformation, growth and development of the economy. The university must contribute to creating a non-racial and non-sexist egalitarian society underpinned by human dignity, the rule of law, a democratic ethos and human rights."

He also cautioned that "expansion must go with quality".

"Developing the University of Mpumalanga will require time, balancing rapid delivery and sustainable growth. Implementation of the university is planned incrementally over a 10-year period until it reaches its planned student compliment of 18 000."

The minister said UMP rests on the following three pillars:

• The 10-year development plan for the university. This will be a 21st century higher education institution embodying the vision and values of the Development Framework.

• The university’s governance structure. This occasion provides an opportunity to introduce the Interim Council, responsible for steering this fledging institution towards growth and sustainability.

•The university’s identity and character. The launch provides an opportunity to introduce the public to the university’s envisaged programmes; its vision and values; and its expression of the aspirations of the people and place where it is situated.

"This identity will be encoded in the logo and brand of the University of Mpumalanga," Nzimande said. – SAnews.gov.za

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