South Africa’s two new universities, to open in the Northern Cape and Mpumalanga province with a small student intake in 2014 before expanding quickly over the next decade, will be called Sol Plaatje University and the University of Mpumalanga.

Announcing the names at a press conference in Pretoria on Thursday, President Jacob Zuma said that the government’s policy blueprint, the National Development Plan (NDP), envisaged an increase in the country’s higher education enrolments from 17.9 percent in 2012 to 25 percent by 2030.

“In the last decade we have witnessed growth of over 50% in the number of enrolments,” he said. “Numbers moved from 603 000 students enrolled in 2001 to 935 000 in 2012.”

South Africa currently has 23 universities. These include six universities of technology, which focus on vocationally oriented education, six comprehensive universities offering a combination of academic and vocational diplomas and degrees, and 11 traditional universities offering theoretically oriented university degrees.

However, none of these is located in either Mpumalanga or the Northern Cape, making these the only provinces in the country that are not home to a university.

Private sector urged to come on board

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan set aside over R2-billion for the establishment of the two new universities in his medium term (2013-2015) budget in September last year.

Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande, also addressing Thursday’s press conference, said the government was in talks with the private sector, particularly with companies that do business in the two provinces, to come on board with additional funding.

“In fact, a few of them have come forward and said they are willing to make some kind of contribution,” Nzimande said.

He confirmed that the first intake of students would be in 2014, but that they would be operating from existing buildings, with new university buildings expected to open in 2015.

Zuma said that each university would grow its institutional, academic and infrastructure capacity in a planned and gradual manner, with the aim of growing over the next decade to accommodate 15 000 students at the main campus in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga and 5 000 at the main campus in Kimberley.

The planned start in 2014 will accommodate a modest initial intake 150 students at Sol Plaatjie and 140 in Mpumalanga.

Catering for academic niche areas

“The two universities are expected to provide additional specialist capacity to our higher education system, enabling the establishment of academic niche areas that do not exist elsewhere or are underrepresented in the country.”

Given the rich heritage of Kimberley and the Northern Cape in general, Zuma said, it was envisaged that Sol Plaatje would specialise in heritage studies, including interconnected academic fields such as museum management, archaeology, indigenous languages, and restoration architecture.

Mpumalanga University was expected to specialise in agriculture and biodiversity, linking into food security, natural resource management, nature conservation, plant and animal sciences, forestry and wood sciences, technology as well as wildlife management.

However, “these represent only the initial ideas, which will be given greater definition as the new interim councils take up their duties,” Zuma said.

He noted that preliminary academic programmes had been established for each institution and that a range of partnerships had been formed with established universities to support academic programme development and delivery at the new universities.

The University of Mpumalanga will start as a multi-campus institution, with one campus in Nelspruit and one in Siyabuswa. Sol Plaatje University will be established initially on the main campus in Kimberley, but might expand to become a multi-campus university in the future.

The Department of Higher Education and Training is determined to ensure that the first new institutions of higher learning to open in South Africa since 1994 become “symbols of our new order, democracy, inclusiveness, growth and opportunity”, capable of attracting “the best academics in South Africa, the continent and the world”.

Intellectual, journalist, linguist, politician, translator and writer Sol Plaatje (1876-1932) was the author of Mhudi (completed in 1920, published in 1930), the first novel by a black South African.

He was also a prominent campaigner for the rights of black people, and a founder member and first general secretary of the South African Native National Congress, which would become the African National Congress (ANC).