South Africa wasting money on funding unemployable humanities and social science university students

South Africa is wasting billions of rand on university students studying “soft” degrees.

According to a report in the Sunday Times, money meant for the National Skills Fund (NSF) for the development of “badly needed artisans” is being used to fund all university students instead.

NSF CEO Mvuyisi Macikama said the country desperately needs artisans, and there is currently a huge shortage – so companies are importing skills.

The NSF’s funds meant for training artisans, however, are being used to fund universities and the “no increase” and “no fees” promises made by the government following Fees Must Fall protests.

Macikama said the department of higher education has taken R6.56-billion from the NSF to pay for this.

While the NSF has a target of getting more technical skills into the workplace, its fund are now being used to keep fees down for humanities and social science students, said Macikama.

Macikama added that a no-increase or no-fees policy is “absolutely not sustainable”.


The NSF has a target of training 30,000 artisans a year by 2030, while 21,000 artisans are being trained per year currently.

“Universities, on the other hand, are churning out so many students with soft degrees that the market cannot absorb them,” stated the Sunday Times.

Businesses in the engineering industries which help fund the NSF are getting frustrted by the recent moves by the department of higher education, as they pay their skills levies but are not receiving trained artisans.

“We’re going through a consultation process with them, and these are the concerns that have been raised and continue to be raised,” said Macikama.

Macikama said the department stated the NSF’s mandate was to supply skills the country needed, and “skills provided by universities are required by the country”.

Macikama said there is not a shortage of social science and humanities students in the country, though, and these students cannot be absorbed into the job market.

Fees Must Fall

The willingness of the department of higher education to spend NSF funds on keeping all university fees down follows massive protests in 2016 from university students.

The Fees Must Fall protests called for no-fee universities in South Africa.

Universities South Africa said in late 2016 that damage caused by the protests cost around R700-R800 million to repair.

As an example, students burnt down UJ’s auditorium in May 2016, causing an estimated R100 million in damages. They also burnt down a laboratory, which cost approximately R20 million to repair.

In August 2016, then-rector of the University of the Free State Jonathan Jansen said 0% fee increases will mean the beginning of the end for public universities in South Africa.

Now read: Students attack security guards – What the #FeesMustFall protests really look like

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South Africa wasting money on funding unemployable humanities and social science university students