Are the wealthy riding on the back of the #feesmustfall campaign?

A year ago faeces was thrown at a statue and that started the #Rhodesmustfall campaign.

That quickly became #feesmustfall. (Not that #Rhodesmustfall is not still alive and well.)

This is student activism reloaded and where there has not been violence, it is a most healthy development that has made students interesting again.

Let’s encourage further debate.

#feesmustfall for all is a wonderful ideal. But ideals often contain imperfections that must always be tested against reality.

If #feesmustfall is interpreted as #feesmustfall-FOR-ALL then the ideal has an inherent contradiction. Try this.

In February 2016 Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, increased taxes on wealthy South Africans in the National Budget speech. This reverses the trend that existed from 1995 to 2015 where the wealthy enjoyed an annual tax reduction of between R3000 and R8000 per annum.

But many of the wealthy are actually better off in 2016 than 2015. Why? Because they are riding on the back of the success of the #feesmustfall campaign in achieving a zero fee increase for 2016.

Everybody understands that a premier education is the most valuable legacy in life. So parents will do almost anything to enroll their children at the best schools and universities. The wealthy can afford to spend fortunes on private school and university education.

Some can even afford pay the full fee upfront without blinking an eye and take advantage of the discount that is offered.

Later on when it comes to university fees these same wealthy actually enjoy some relief as the fees are about half of what was paid for the private school experience. No wonder the wealthy students drive cars and can afford the party.

For most families though, higher education is dream. And here we have to address this. Fair is fair after all.

The waiver of the fee increase for 2016 resulted in the wealthy enjoying a benefit of R3000 or more per child. Some scooped a benefit of more than R10 000 which is significantly more than the biggest annual tax reduction in SA economic history.

If #feesmustfall is actually to be #feesmustfallFORALL then morally it is on the wrong track.  We cannot allow the wealthy a tax break in a country with a Gini co-efficient of ,59.

Those who advocate FORALL say they are concerned that should some still be required to pay, the system will still favour the rich. Universities will still chase the money.

However, enforcing zero fees for all will simply undermine any efforts to address economic inequality. It will also lead our universities to financial ruin. That means #NOEDUCATIONFORALL.

So the #feesmustfall campaign needs to shift its sights without losing impetus.

NSFAS is by no means perfect. But it could be fixed.

NSFAS currently sponsors around 200 000 poor students at a cost of around R10 billion a year. So if we double financial assistance for poor students with targeted interventions we could possibly sponsor 400 000 students at a cost of R20 billion a year.

National Treasury has allocated an additional R16billion to higher education over the MTBF period, That’s close on R5 billion a year. That’s half of what is needed.

Now, if a moderate fee increase is negotiated for 2017, that could be the other R5 billion.

So here’s a suggested plan of attack for #feesmustfall that could achieve wonders in the short term.

  • #feesmustfall must confront the commission of enquiry into higher education to provide some direction. Otherwise the commission will just follow the views of the higher education authorities.
  • The additional budget of R5 billion allocated to higher education must be solely on financial assistance for the poor. If NSFAS cannot deliver, propose alternative targeted interventions.
  • Next up #feesmustfall must engage with universities to ensure that if there is to be an agreed fee increase for 2017 it is spent exclusively on financial assistance for poor students.
  • Finally #feesmustfall must tackle national treasury to increase the higher education budget even further in the 2017 MTBF. National treasury has already indicated that this door is open.

If some progress could be made towards the resolution of the crisis the next target can become the business community of SA in a challenge to provide financial assistance for the parents of the not-so-poor student.

There can be no better investment.


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