While education has been receiving a lion’s share of the national budget for years, the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 dealt the sector a huge blow. The government reprioritised funds to combat the virus.
Minister of Finance at the time, Tito Mboweni, announced budget cuts which also affected spending on learning and culture.
“As a major step towards fiscal sustainability, today we announce a net downward adjustment to main budget non-interest expenditure of R156.1 billion over the next three years relative to the 2019 budget projections,” Mboweni said.
The Department of Basic Education’s total budget decreased by R2.1 billion from the initial projection.
“Firstly, the initial overall 2020/21 budget allocation for the DBE (Department of Basic Education) before adjustments, was just over R25.3 billion; an increase of 3.3% from last year’s baseline. However, after the adjustments, the overall 2020/21 budget allocation for the DBE, was reduced to over R23.2 billion; which is a decrease of 5.3% for last year’s baseline,” said Education Minister Angie Motshekga while delivering the department’s budget vote.
The 2020 Budget Speech:
Delivering the budget speech in 2021, Mboweni announced that expenditure on learning and culture will be cut for the next three years with projects funded by the School Infrastructure Backlog Grant ending in 2022/23.
“Cabinet‐approved reductions of R1.6 billion over the medium term are effected on the school infrastructure backlogs grant (R413.3 million); the Funza Lushaka bursary programme (R254.8 million); and transfers to provinces (R209.2 million) for various conditional grants, including the HIV and AIDS (life skills education) grant (R61.4 million),” as outlined in the 2021 Basic Education Budget Vote.
The government’s decision was not without criticism. Advocacy group Section 27 described the move as a way of neglecting human rights.
“Section 27 is deeply worried that this budget allocates less funding in real terms to the basic education and healthcare sectors, to the detriment of the 13.2 million learners in South African schools and 49.8 million people in this country who rely on public healthcare services. We see this as the continuation of a trend of prioritising the reduction of public debt and tax breaks for corporates and high-income earners, while the fulfillment of socio-economic rights is sidelined.”
The Department of Higher Education, Science and Technology was also not spared when Mboweni announced the 2020 budget cuts.
“The final Special Adjustments Budget cut for the Department for 2020/21 amounts to R9.857 billion. The total suspension of funds amounts to R6.734 billion of which R4.999 billion is reallocated for reprioritising expenditure towards COVID-19 activities. The net suspension amounts to R1.734 billion for normal voted funds. The adjustments Budget also provides for the reduced collection of skills levies to the amount of R8.122 billion. Based on the above, the Department’s original allocation for 2020/21 reduces from R116.857 billion to R107.000 billion that represents a reduction of 8%,” announced Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande when he delivered the department’s budget vote.
Mboweni announced a R402.9 billion allocation to education and culture in 2021, with R119.6-billion allocated to post-school education and training. To address funding challenges in tertiary institutions, Nzimande announced that the department’s NSFAS approved budget for 2020/21 was R41.5 billion.
“This excludes the R6.4billion additional budget approved. Following the shortfall experienced by NSFAS, we reprioritised our departmental budget to ensure that all deserving, NSFAS-qualifying students are able to receive funding for the 2021 academic year. Irrespective of these challenges, NSFAS funding has increased more than fivefold just in 6 years, from R5,9 billion in 2014 to R34,7 billion in 2020. In the current financial year, NSFAS funding is expected to reach over R43 billion – a further increase of nearly R10 billion in just two years.”
All eyes will be on Minister of Finance Enoch Godongwana on Wednesday when he delivers the Budget Speech at the Goodhope Chamber in Parliament.
There are calls for the Minister to allocate more funds to the education sector: