Don’t let up on fees fight

Cape Argus - - OPINION -

FOR more than two years, the #FeesMustFall move­ment have high­lighted the hard­ships ex­pe­ri­enced by black stu­dents in ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion. These con­cerns have been ex­pressed via talks, boy­cotts and protests – both peace­ful and vi­o­lent.

Poor, over­whelm­ingly black, stu­dents do not have rich par­ents who can pay for their stud­ies. Many sleep in cor­ri­dors at uni­ver­si­ties be­cause they can­not af­ford a room in the res­i­dences, and a shock­ing num­ber strug­gle to buy one meal a day. This is our na­tional shame. Let us re­it­er­ate, while state cof­fers are be­ing looted and state-owned en­ter­prises are plun­dered of bil­lions of rand, the plight of stu­dents – fu­ture lead­ers – is be­ing ig­nored.

And yet, the hunger for learn­ing among our young con­tin­ues. Thou­sands of par­ents in lowly jobs work them­selves to the bone to get their chil­dren into uni­ver­si­ties. They know, as do their chil­dren, the best way to escape the spi­ral of poverty that traps so many fam­i­lies is through ed­u­ca­tion.

This is why the num­ber of black grad­u­ates with de­grees rose sharply from 1994 to 2014 (11 339 to 20 513).

As a coun­try, we owe ev­ery child in ev­ery fam­ily the op­por­tu­nity to at­tend univer­sity or an in­sti­tu­tion of higher learn­ing if they have the abil­ity, and if they wish to do so.

This is why we are dis­ap­pointed that free ed­u­ca­tion will not be made im­me­di­ately avail­able, ac­cord­ing to the He­her Com­mis­sion of In­quiry into the fund­ing of higher ed­u­ca­tion in South Africa.

Jus­tice Jonathan He­her, as­sisted by ad­vo­cate Gre­gory Ally and Leah Khumalo, con­cluded in a 748-page re­port ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion should be funded through a cost-shar­ing model that in­cludes the gov­ern­ment and banks.

The re­port rec­om­mends stu­dents at tech­ni­cal colleges should be al­lowed to study for free.

Some will see a bright side to this: South Africa has a short­age of ar­ti­sans and fees-free colleges will help strengthen num­bers in this field. But we be­lieve some of the other changes pro­posed are purely hold­ing mea­sures. For in­stance, it’s hard to see the re­plac­ing of the Na­tional Stu­dent Fi­nan­cial Aid Scheme by in­come con­tin­gent loans will make things easier on poor stu­dents. They will still be caught in a debt spi­ral which will be dif­fi­cult to escape.

We urge stu­dents and the gov­ern­ment to con­tinue work­ing to­wards a fund­ing sys­tem that will work and which, as soon as pos­si­ble, will make free ed­u­ca­tion pos­si­ble.

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