South Africans are not very good at predicting the future

This is a pity in the context of #FessMustfall as it is not very difficult to predict the consequences if #FeesMustFall were to succeed in achieving its objectives.

Some say that it would indeed be cheaper for government to succumb to the #FeesMustFall demands, dismantle NSFAS and pay higher subsidies directly to the universities. Replacing the current student fee base would only cost about R30billion per annum. And that would be a reasonable price to pay to solve the problem.

The primary consequences of free higher education for all South Africans have apparently already been identified. Or so we think. The taxpayer could not afford it. And ‘the wealthy’ (those with income over R600 000) would get their children educated for free.

Now add a few other certainties into the debate.

  • Whatever happens, there will have to be a budget for the department of higher education. This will have to be distributed to the universities on some form of formula. But the diversity of our universities is such that we will never find an equitable formula. So we will extend the reality that exists today where we have comparatively rich universities (historically white) and poor universities (historically black).
  • The goal of every university will be to maximize state subsidy instead of concentrating on effective transformation.
  • Only 5% of South Africans in education (aged 5 -24) are attending university. What about the other 95%? Are they to be left out in the cold?
  • University graduates will go on to earn far more than the rest, thus extending inequality in South Africa.
  • Unless the cost of free higher education is financed by the national debt, other government budgets will have to be cut. In the current SA economy there just is not space to increase taxes by R30 billion just to keep the students quiet. Not with a population of 56 million South Africans.

Whichever way you look at it  #FeesMustfall-for-all is an unattainable ideal. And always will be.

The problem is that higher education was never supposed to be about the money.

Go back more than 60 years to the Freedom Charter, 1955.

The Doors of Learning and Culture Shall be Opened!

The government shall discover, develop and encourage national talent for the enhancement of our cultural life;

All the cultural treasures of mankind shall be open to all, by free exchange of books, ideas and contact with other lands;

The aim of education shall be to teach the youth to love their people and their culture, to honour human brotherhood, liberty and peace;

Education shall be free, compulsory, universal and equal for all children; Higher education and technical training shall be opened to all by means of state allowances and scholarships awarded on the basis of merit;

Adult illiteracy shall be ended by a mass state education plan;

What happened?

In the 22 years since South Africa achieved an open democracy, government has been unable to deliver anything like an adequate package for all.  Thus many place their hopes on a higher education as being the only prospect of increasing earning capacity to secure a better life for themselves and their families. Nobody can blame them for that.

But South Africa’s basic education is faltering. A matric today may achieve university admission, but it is a poor indicator of having the ability to cope with first year university. Prospective students just don’t know that!

Already today many universities will enroll whoever they can in the pursuit of government subsidy. But the fall out rates are an absolute disaster!













Now Imagine you are

  • A disadvantaged student who has attained a matric that qualifies for university admission.
  • So, enroll and make the minimum initial payment
  • But by August it is clear from your academic record you are not going to pass
  • You now face academic exclusion from the university with little prospect of ever repaying the debt.

It is a disgrace that students should ever face such a position. No wonder so many are angry!

So we need a uniquely South Africa solution to the problem. No overseas model can address the problems facing SA today.

 This is not as difficult as it would seem. It all boils down to the definition of basic education. By simply extending the right to basic education to include first year university much of the problem can be solved without invading the honorable intentions of the freedom charter and the constitution.

Surprisingly the first year cohort comprises a mere 17% of the students. So the money could be found.

A free first year would allow all South Africans with an adequate matric the opportunity to have a go at university. And if it does not work they are not left with a mountain of debt they can never repay. They just walk away.

In financial terms a second year student is an entirely different proposition to a first year. The statistics reflect that second year students have every prospect of attaining a degree if they stick at it. Thus they are considered ‘bankable.’

Once students graduate their income earning potential skyrockets. Are the proponents of #FeesMustFall saying that a South African should be allowed to advance entirely at expense of state with no payback expectation at all?

The resources exist within South Africa’s financial institutions to provide a guaranteed student loan system for all students who pass first year. Government subsidies could reduce the interest rates on student loans to very acceptable levels. South Africa’s tax system could carry the cost by simply increasing the Skills Development Levy from 1% of payroll to 1,5%.

 Lets make a simple conclusion.

Assume that if first year university could be fully funded by state ,the cost of completing a degree is similar to the cost of a motor car. Graduates will buy many motor cars across the 45 years that spans a career with degree. Are the proponents of #FeesMustFall- for-all really saying that they cannot put one back in lieu of the advantage they attained over their fellow South African. When South Africa’s Gini co-efficient sits, at best, at .59?

If so the spirit of Ubuntu is dead forever.

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