Oh, not an­other in­quiry

CityPress - - Voices -

What do lead­ers in gov­ern­ment do when faced with a dif­fi­cult task, or asked crit­i­cal ques­tions? Or­der a com­mis­sion of in­quiry. We’ve seen this many times, and of­ten the re­ports from such costly com­mis­sions are swept un­der the car­pet, or rec­om­men­da­tions are never im­ple­mented – all at great cost to the coun­try.

This week we got yet an­other com­mis­sion. Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma an­nounced one to look into the fea­si­bil­ity of free ed­u­ca­tion for the poor – against the back­drop of the #FeesMustFall stu­dent move­ment, which, in Novem­ber, forced gov­ern­ment and uni­ver­si­ties to halt the in­crease of fees this year. Now the stu­dents are back and de­mand­ing free ed­u­ca­tion now. This re­sulted in reg­is­tra­tions be­ing can­celled at some in­sti­tu­tions this week.

Then comes Pres­i­dent Zuma, say­ing he has given the com­mis­sion eight months to in­ves­ti­gate.

There is much that’s wrong with this lat­est com­mis­sion. Since Zuma took of­fice in 2009, there have al­ready been two sim­i­lar com­mis­sions that probed the very same mat­ter of univer­sity fund­ing and the af­ford­abil­ity of free ed­u­ca­tion.

In 2013, a team led by Cyril Ramaphosa pro­duced a vo­lu­mi­nous re­port about the fund­ing of uni­ver­si­ties. It re­vealed that uni­ver­si­ties were un­der­funded by be­tween 40% and 60%, adding that there was an ur­gent need for them to be re­cap­i­talised. There is no ev­i­dence to sug­gest its rec­om­men­da­tions have been im­ple­mented.

A year ear­lier, Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Blade Nz­i­mande had ap­pointed Nel­son Man­dela Met­ro­pol­i­tan Univer­sity vice-chan­cel­lor Der­rick Swartz to look into the fea­si­bil­ity of free higher ed­u­ca­tion for the poor. It found that it was pos­si­ble. But Nz­i­mande never made the re­port pub­lic un­til he was forced to do so at the height of the stu­dent protests last year.

Zuma is now rein­vent­ing the wheel. The terms of ref­er­ence for the new com­mis­sion will look into in­sti­tu­tional au­ton­omy, higher ed­u­ca­tion cost struc­tures, cost driv­ers, how to struc­ture a sub­sidy for the poor and higher ed­u­ca­tion in­fla­tion. But one would have as­sumed and ex­pected that Nz­i­mande’s team also looked into how fund­ing for poor stu­dents would be im­ple­mented.

An­other com­mis­sion will cost the fis­cus and de­lay free ed­u­ca­tion. South Africans are de­mand­ing de­ci­sive lead­er­ship to en­sure no child is de­nied the right to ed­u­ca­tion be­cause of his or her back­ground.

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