The government expects the capital and operating costs of two new universities to be built in Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape to run to R17bn over the next 10 years.
President Jacob Zuma officially revealed the names of the proposed universities. The University of Mpumalanga is to be located in Nelspruit and Siyabuswa. The other, in Kimberley, has been named after struggle icon Sol Plaatje.
Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape have been the only provinces without universities.
The University of Mpumalanga is expected to have cost about R10.3bn in capital and operational costs by the time it has 15,000 full-time students. An amount of R6.6bn will be spent on Sol Plaatje University, which is expected to have 5,000 students over the next 10 years.
But intake, beginning next year, will be conservative in the initial years as the institutions build capacity. Sol Plaatje will start with 150 students while the University of Mpumalanga will take in a similarly modest number of 140 students.
The Treasury has allocated R2bn to be spent over the next three years. The government will be the main funder, but Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande said he was in talks with private companies to help with the funding.
Mr Zuma said the opening of the two universities would mark an “important milestone” in South Africa’s commitment to education. The National Development Plan envisages an increase in higher education enrolments from 17.9% last year to 25% by 2030.
In the past decade South Africa has seen growth of more than 50% in the number of university enrolments.
Mr Nzimande said construction of the two institutions would start in September and was due to be completed in 2015. In the meantime, the two institutions would use existing infrastructure.
There were plans to recruit academics for the new universities from abroad as there might not be enough lecturers in South Africa for some of the programmes to be offered, Mr Nzimande said. His department was also in the process of developing a comprehensive medium- to long-term strategy to increase the number of academics in the country.
Given the rich cultural heritage of Kimberley and the Northern Cape in general, it is envisioned that Sol Plaatje University will specialise in heritage studies. These include interconnected academic fields such as museum studies, archaeology, indigenous languages and restoration architecture.
The University of Mpumalanga will specialise in agriculture and biodiversity, linking with food security, natural resource management, nature conservation, plant and animal sciences, technology as well as wildlife management.
Mr Zuma announced the interim councils to lead the universities. The University of Mpumalanga will be chaired by Madoda Mabunda while Jennifer Glennie will chair Sol Plaatje. The management and academic staff are expected to be appointed in September.