CABINET has approved proposals made by the Minister of Education, Professor Kader Asmal, for the transformation and reconstruction of higher education in the country, including the reduction of the number of higher education institutions from 36 to 21.
In a press statement at the end of May, Asmal announced that the new system would comprise 11 universities, six technikons and four comprehensive institutions. Three of these comprehensive institutions will be established through the merger of a technikon and a university, and one through the redevelopment and refocusing of an existing university.
In addition, two new bodies, known as National Institutes for Higher Education, will be established, one in the Northern Cape and the other in Mpumalanga. Neither of these provinces currently houses any higher education institutions.
The reduction of the number of institutions does not, however, mean that any current sites of learning will be closed, Asmal insisted. Instead, a number of mergers will be used to bring about this restructuring.
In the Western Cape, all three universities (UCT, Western Cape and Stellenbosch) will be retained as separate institutions, while Cape Technikon and Peninsula Technikon are to be merged. The dentistry schools of the Universities of Western Cape and Stellenbosch will also be merged into a single school, to be located at the University of the Western Cape.
UCT and the University of Stellenbosch will cease to enrol undergraduate nursing students, who will instead enrol at UWC and the newly merged technikon.
(Details on other institutions can be found in the Department of Education's document on A New Institutional Landscape for Higher Education in South Africa, to be found at the department's website at http://education.pwv.gov.za/ – go to What's New and click on the document title in the left column.)
"This is not a technical exercise to rearrange existing institutions into different configurations," said Asmal. "Rather, it is an exercise that will allow for the expansion of the system and turn it around to face the challenges of the African century."
The Department of Education will also strive to increase the participation rate of 20- to 24-year olds in higher education from 15% to 20% over the next 10 years. This would mean that an additional 200 000 students would be recruited into the system.
According to Asmal, South Africa does not have the financial and human resources to maintain the present institutional structure of higher education. No institution will be left untouched by the restructuring, he added.
"Our change agenda has no sacred cows. All institutions will be expected to make its contributions to the achievement of national goals and objectives."
Asmal plans to meet with the major constituencies in higher education over the next few weeks to discuss the next steps in his proposal. "The road ahead will not be easy," he said.
"I am hopeful that narrow self and institutional interests will be set aside for the good of the country and future generations of staff and students to whom we owe a vibrant future."
According to Vice-Chancellor, Professor Njabulo Ndebele, the document heralds the end of an old era, and the inception of a new. "Now we have something concrete that we can work with," he said.