Don’t let up on fees fight
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.