The differentiation discussion, which has become increasingly urgent since the introduction of democracy in South Africa in 1994, is now considering not just universities but the whole “post-school” sector with a particular focus on the technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges. The debate has also recently focussed on university finances after the #FeesMustFall protests brought greater public attention to bear on this issue. Pressure has mounted for a more unified system of financing higher education and demands have been made for a national education regulator – the educational equivalent of the National Energy Regulator (Nersa) – that can rule on issues such as student fees.
The debate should also focus on the contribution that the higher education sector could and should make to South Africa’s knowledge economy and overall economic growth. Equity will just become equal misery without growth. Equity without development can lead to contestation over resources. Development without equity can lead to unrest and is not politically sustainable. It is noteworthy that many of the present funding restraints on higher education, which are creating tensions and contestation, would fall away if national growth rose to 5% and the education budget increased accordingly. The indicator framework that the government is drafting should be used to measure and promote the contributions made by higher education to national development and economic growth rather than merely comparing one university with the next.
This report presents various responses to and perspectives on the differentiation debate and on the indicators needed to assess the performance of a differentiated post-school system.