Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande. Picture: SOWETAN
Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande. Picture: SOWETAN

THE NEW Sol Plaatje University in the Northern Cape will significantly enhance the country’s knowledge production and innovation capacity and it represents a new order of African intellect, Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande said on Thursday.

He was speaking at the formal launch of the new university, which was named after struggle stalwart Sol Plaatje. The university’s plan was unveiled on Wednesday at the site where the university will be built. Construction will begin in September and it is expected to enrol 135 students during the first intake at the beginning of 2014 and gradually increasing to achieve a target of 7,500 students by 2024.

It is estimated that more than R6bn will be spent on the project, and it is expected to be completed by 2015. Another university is being built in Mpumalanga which will be known as the University of Mpumalanga.

The government expects the capital and operating costs of the two new universities to reach about R17bn over the next 10 years.

Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape have been the only provinces without universities. Mpumalanga has a population of about 3.6-million and the Northern Cape 1.1-million.

Mr Nzimande said on Thursday that the launch of Sol Plaatje University was a major milestone in the transformation and expansion of the higher education sector.

"It is the first new university to be launched since 1994 and as such is a powerful symbol of the country’s democracy, inclusiveness, and growth. It represents a new order of African intellect, with a firm focus on innovation and excellence," Mr Nzimande said.

The initial qualifications offered by the new university will include higher certificates, advanced certificates, diplomas and bachelor’s degrees. It will offer programmes for diplomas in Business Management, Information and Communications Technology and a Bachelor degree in Education. Other courses offered will include Museum Studies, Archaeology, Indigenous Languages and Restorative Architecture.

According to the department of higher education and training, lecturers and students at Sol Plaatje will have access to the most advanced communications platforms and processes. "Well-equipped libraries, knowledge resources and laboratories will form part of the university’s research and scientific infrastructure to support its niche areas of specialisation," the department said.

The Treasury has allocated R2bn to be spent over the next three years for the new universities. The government will be the main funder, but Mr Nzimande said earlier this year that he was in talks with private companies to help with the funding.

Anglo American, together with its business units De Beers and Kumba Iron Ore, provided a total of R96m in support of the Sol Plaatje University. This includes a contribution towards the construction of the administration building; conducting a feasibility study for the Centre of Excellence focused on courses related to the mining industry, further funding for the establishment of the Centre of Excellence over a five-year period; and a contribution of land and buildings for future expansion projects.

The Sishen Iron Ore Community Development Trust will also establish a R20m bursary scheme created to benefit students from the Northern Cape and beyond, who are accepted to study at the university. De Beers Consolidated Mines chairman Barend Petersen said after the launch: "The mining industry has an indispensable role to play in supporting the development of the skills that society needs and education is the leading and integral part of Anglo American’s corporate social development strategy."

"Anglo American’s commitment and support to uplifting education has been widely recorded and is in line with the company’s objectives of partnering for best effect," Mr Petersen said.