Students who grew up in rural areas and were now studying at urban tertiary institutions, should consider going back to the country in order to contribute to impoverished local economies, said Deputy President Baleka Mbete on Tuesday.
Although renowned musical artist Chicco Twala, together with members of the provincial ANC Youth League were billed to speak at the University of the Western Cape’s State of the University Address and swearing in of the new Student Representative Council (SRC) members, it was Mbete who took the stage, whereupon a number of students left the hall.
After initially castigating the students for talking while the national anthem was being sung – to further murmurs from the floor – she encouraged the approximately 200 students to “go back” to the “rural areas” and put the skills they had developed to good use in order to stem rural to urban migration.
“Students have to pay priority attention to rural areas. You must take (your skills) back home and develop those areas,” she said.
Responding to concerns raised by the new SRC members over the high cost of tertiary education, she said the government was willing to “review” and “renew” state bursaries in order to encourage students from poor families to access tertiary education, as well as extending funding schemes which would narrow the “gap” between “disadvantaged” and “privileged” universities.
She went on to list the government’s achievement over the past 15 years, such as the increased access to social grants, the electrification of 80 percent of South African homes, the building of 2,5 million homes and 1 600 clinics and the provision of half-a-million jobs.
But she said the country had to realise that due to numerous challenges and the global recession, government would not be able to put its plans into action “all at once”.
Newly elected SRC president Mxolisi Vilakazi said the education system in the country was “uninformed”, because the government did not have enough time to discuss issues surrounding higher education.
Vilakazi said the SRC wanted government to consider subsidising tuition fees for students as well as textbook prices to ease costs.
He said the current situation in which only 15 percent of first year students graduated, was not good, yet government acted as if “nothing terrible had happened”.