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					                                            COMMENTS ON
                               THE NATIONAL PLAN FOR HIGHER EDUCATION
                                               OF THE
                                       MINISTRY OF EDUCATION

                                               FEBRUARY 2001
                                     By Magda Fourie, Deputy Director URHE,
                                            University of Free State

    The long-awaited National Plan for Higher Education was launched by the Minister of
    Education, Prof. Kader Asmal, on 5 March 2001. This Plan is a further step in the process of
    restructuring South African higher education which started with the National Education Policy Investigation
    (NEPI) in the early nineties, the investigation and report of the National Commission on Higher Education in
    1996, the Green and White Papers on Higher Education Transformation and the Higher Education Act.
    Since the publication of the new higher education policy and legislation in 1997, higher education institutions
    have experienced a so-called ‘policy implementation vacuum’, which to a large extent is now addressed by
    the National Plan. The Plan puts in place a framework with clear recommendations in terms of policy
    implementation, and strives to balance the two important principles of equity (redress) and excellence

    According to the Minister’s address at the launch of the Plan, the Plan is not up for further consultation nor
    for negotiation. “It marks the beginning of a new phase of delivery of a quality higher education
    system that will truly contribute to the social, economic and political challenges that face our
    country” (Asmal 2001).

    The Plan consists of seven sections covering the following:

•    Producing the graduates needed for social and            economic development in South Africa
•    Achieving equity in the South African higher education system
•    Achieving diversity in the South African higher education system
•    Sustaining and promoting research
•    Restructuring the institutional landscape of the higher education system.

    To a large extent the Plan succeeds in balancing the realities of South African higher education and the
    need to restructure and transform the sector in order to meet the challenges of the new millennium.
    The Plan paves the way for more central (national) steering of the higher education system in order to
    reconfigure it in line with the
    development needs of the country, but also to create some order in the system.

    Key recommendations of the Plan include the differentiation of the missions of South African higher
    education institutions through the identification of niche areas. These niche areas will be negotiated by
    each institution and the Ministry in the lightofinstitutional Strengths and capacity, and regional and
    national needs. Institutional niches will serve as point of departure for consideration of teaching and
    research areas and programme mixes.

    With regard to the reconfiguration of the institutional landscape, the Plan proposes the establishment of
    a single, dedicated distance education institution by means of the merging of the University of South
    Africa, Technikon SA and the incorporation of the distance education campus of Vista University
    (VUDEC).      Other proposals in this regard include the unbundling of Vista University and the
    incorporation of Uniqwa with the University of the Free State. The establishment of National Institutes
    for Higher Education in Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape is also proposed.

    The Minister plans to increase the participation rate in higher education from 15% to 20% over the next
    ten to fifteen years and also to shift the balance of enrolments between the humanities, business and
    commerce and science, engineering and technology to a ratio of 40:30:30 over the next five to ten
    years. The Plan pays significant attention to student and staff equity, and institutions are expected to
    develop employment equity plans with clear targets for rectifying race and gender inequities.
Although the Plan is generally welcomed over the entire higher education sector in South Africa, concerns
have been expressed about the lack of capacity at both national and institutional levels to give full effect to
mostly very good proposals.