Newspaper clipping – The Mercury – 5 May 2009

Education ministry split "would be logical"

Splitting the Education Department into two entities - which would be responsible for schools and tertiary education, respectively - would be logical provided the right people headed the two ministries.

This was according to education analyst Professor Jonathan Jansen on Monday, following indications by ANC President Jacob Zuma that the country is likely to have two education ministries, with the aim of improving the department.

Students and workers unions were split on their support of the proposed move. While tertiary staff unions have thrown their weight behind the proposal, student movements were not sold on the idea.

Jansen said the national split was not likely to be mirrored at provincial level. "A ministry of higher learning is not required at provincial level, as that is a national matter. Schools would have a provincial MEC, as they do now, so that would be unaffected," he said. Jansen said the education system was currently "too large, complex and unstable for one minister".

He said it usually required an enormous amount of time to address problems at universities. "Like the academic freedom issue raised at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the management problem at the Mangosuthu University of Technology. These things require a minister to be hands-on. Now what happens when you add 26 000 schools, children being stabbed at schools, teachers striking and so on? This is a ministry that requires two authorities," he said.

The National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (NEHAWU) and the National Tertiary Education Staff Union (NTESU) said the move would ensure more focused effort in the different education sectors. NTESU president Silvia Nkanyuza said the union welcomed the proposal but, if implemented, it would monitor the government's attitude regarding institutional autonomy and academic freedom.

The SA Union of Students (SAUS) and the South African Students Congress (SASCO) opposed a split in the education department. SAUS president Sandile Phakathi said the approach was "mechanical rather than scientific", with no research done into its feasibility. Similarly, SASCO president Magasela Nzobe said there was "no evidence" to show that separate ministries would address the challenges faced in the education sector. "In the current system, we have two separate directorates in the department: one focusing on secondary education and the other on higher education. We are not convinced that there would be a difference with separate ministries, " Nzobe said.

The SA Democratic Students Movement welcomed the proposal with reservations. "I think Education Minister Naledi Pandor has a natural feel for university issues. At school level, Science and Technology Minister Mosibudi Mangena works with schools all the time, " a spokesman said.