FEES cri­sis

HOW TO FIX THE Over R770bn is needed to pro­vide higher ed­u­ca­tion in­fra­struc­ture by 2030, says the He­her Com­mis­sion

CityPress - - News - HLENGIWE NHLABATHI and S’THEMBILE CELE news@city­press.co.za

De­spite ac­knowl­edg­ing the ex­tent of the stu­dents’ hous­ing cri­sis, a fees re­port is mum on a plan to fix it. While the cri­sis is wide­spread at uni­ver­si­ties, it is dire at Tech­ni­cal Vo­ca­tional Ed­u­ca­tion and Train­ing (TVET) col­leges where a 2015 sur­vey found only 10 120 beds for 710 000 stu­dents, or 1.4% of them.

These fig­ures were pre­sented to the He­her Com­mis­sion on the fea­si­bil­ity of free higher ed­u­ca­tion.

The com­mis­sion, chaired by Judge Jonathan He­her, was es­tab­lished by Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma in Jan­uary 2016. This fol­lowed #FeesMustFall protests against planned in­creases, which shut down sev­eral cam­puses and de­layed ex­am­i­na­tions.

The com­mis­sion was ini­tially ex­pected to fi­nalise its work within eight months, but this was ex­tended to the end of June this year.

Zuma has had the He­her Com­mis­sion re­port since Au­gust, but is yet to re­lease it publicly.

The bleak pic­ture painted by the depart­ment of higher ed­u­ca­tion in their pre­sen­ta­tion to the He­her Com­mis­sion is noted in the lat­ter’s 748-page re­port.

The City Press has a copy of the re­port in its pos­ses­sion.

There have been ris­ing ten­sions since last week’s City Press rev­e­la­tions on the re­port’s main find­ing that free ed­u­ca­tion is not fea­si­ble. The re­port in­stead pro­posed that an in­come con­tin­gent loan fund­ing sys­tem could in­stead be a so­lu­tion.

It would take al­most 30 years for the sug­gested loan fund­ing sys­tem to be­come self-sus­tain­able, but only if gov­ern­ment could re­cover re­pay­ments form stu­dents.

It’s es­ti­mated that R771.5 bil­lion is needed to pro­vide in­fra­struc­ture for higher learn­ing by 2030.

In 2010, the cost of pro­vid­ing the rec­om­mended res­i­dence spa­ces over 10 years was es­ti­mated at R82.4 bil­lion, or R109.6 bil­lion over 15 years.

The com­mis­sion rec­om­mended that gov­ern­ment form part­ner­ships with other state agen­cies like the Public In­vest­ment Cor­po­ra­tion (PIC) and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, pri­vate stu­dent hous­ing providers, par­ents and spon­sors to de­ter­mine af­ford­able hous­ing and trans­port ar­range­ments for stu­dents.

Also in the re­port are parts of a 2010 min­is­te­rial task team re­port into ter­tiary stu­dent hous­ing. This con­cluded that gov­ern­ment was reck­less in fail­ing to pro­vide enough ac­com­mo­da­tion.

“The com­mit­tee found that throw­ing open the doors of learn­ing with­out pro­vid­ing the min­i­mum sup­port re­quired to en­sure a rea­son­able chance of suc­cess is not only ir­re­spon­si­ble, but also de­hu­man­is­ing, and is negat­ing the very in­ten­tion of in­creas­ing ac­cess to higher ed­u­ca­tion,” the re­port reads.

“Ba­sic health and safety norms are be­ing vi­o­lated ev­ery day by the cur­rent poor qual­ity of stu­dent hous­ing pro­vi­sion.”

The re­port, which Zuma has been re­luc­tant to re­lease ow­ing to “on­go­ing con­sul­ta­tions”, also says that on some cam­puses, stu­dent hous­ing man­age­ment struc­tures and mech­a­nisms have en­tirely failed. A fin­ger is pointed at Ns­fas, which the com­mis­sion said ag­gra­vated the cri­sis with ad­min­is­tra­tive fail­ures which “im­posed se­vere hard­ships on pre­cisely those stu­dents who are most vul­ner­a­ble”.

“Poor hous­ing con­di­tions are un­doubt­edly a fac­tor in stu­dents’ poor aca­demic per­for­mance and high dropout rates,” it found.

The PIC pro­posed an op­tion whereby stu­dent ac­com­mo­da­tion be funded through mul­ti­ple in­vest­ments, in­clud­ing from the pri­vate sec­tor. It said to­gether with de­vel­op­ment fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions, it would then con­trib­ute R10 bil­lion, backed by a gov­ern­ment guar­an­tee to buy the prop­erty in 25 years.

The PIC has al­ready in­vested in 10 000 stu­dent beds and wants to in­crease this to 50 000 by 2020 and 80 000 by 2025.

Mean­while, the min­is­te­rial com­mit­tee es­ti­mated that at least 100 000 stu­dent beds were needed im­me­di­ately at TVET col­leges. At least R7.5 bil­lion was set aside by Trea­sury for in­fra­struc­ture in the 2016/17 and 2018/19 fi­nan­cial years. It is en­vis­aged that half of that money would be in­vested in stu­dent ac­com­mo­da­tion while the other half would go to other in­fra­struc­ture needs like main­te­nance.

But as things stand, the univer­sity sys­tem has an es­ti­mated R25 bil­lion in back­logs while ac­com­mo­da­tion main­te­nance and re­fur­bish­ment back­logs stand at R2.5 bil­lion. This ex­cludes an­other R1.9 bil­lion needed to mod­ernise ex­ist­ing res­i­dences.

But Fi­nance Min­is­ter Malusi Gi­gaba only bud­geted R11 mil­lion for ex­pan­sions in the next three years.

The com­mis­sion fur­ther rec­om­mended that TVET stu­dents’ ac­com­mo­da­tion be con­sid­ered as much of a pri­or­ity as it was for uni­ver­si­ties.

There were fears this week that the com­mis­sion’s find­ings could fuel more vi­o­lent protests. Ten­sions in­creased at the Univer­sity of Cape Town, which has an­nounced an 8% fee hike. Wits Univer­sity’s Stu­dents’ Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Coun­cil de­cided against dis­rupt­ing classes as most stu­dents chose to rather fin­ish writ­ing ex­ams.

There has been mount­ing pres­sure from po­lit­i­cal par­ties, stu­dents, univer­sity man­age­ment and even Par­lia­ment for Zuma to re­lease the re­port.

This week, Par­lia­ment’s port­fo­lio com­mit­tee on higher ed­u­ca­tion ex­pressed con­cern about po­ten­tial con­se­quences of de­lay­ing its re­lease and re­solved to write to new higher ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter Hlengiwe Mkhize to ask for its re­lease. ANC MPs blocked the DA’s at­tempts to sum­mons Zuma to re­lease the re­port.

In a state­ment on Wed­nes­day, com­mit­tee chair­per­son Con­nie Septem­ber said that while it ac­cepted that Zuma needed to ap­ply his mind to the re­port, he must do so ex­pe­di­tiously.

“There now seems to be anx­i­ety and po­ten­tial unrest as a re­sult of fur­ther de­lays in re­leas­ing the re­port. It serves no pur­pose in keep­ing so­ci­ety in sus­pense over what the com­mis­sion found. It also is a wrong ap­proach to al­low a sit­u­a­tion where the re­port comes in dribs and drabs through un­nec­es­sary leaks in the me­dia.”

Septem­ber said uni­ver­si­ties needed to know how to bud­get for next year.

The com­mis­sion con­sid­ered other sources of fund­ing, in­clud­ing un­claimed pen­sions, so­cial im­pact bonds, and pro­ceeds of cor­rup­tion and other in­ef­fi­cien­cies. Other pro­pos­als it re­ceived in­cluded in­creas­ing the skills de­vel­op­ment levy.

But the most ap­peal­ing op­tion was dip­ping into the Un­em­ploy­ment In­sur­ance Fund (UIF), which has net as­set funds of R120.12 bil­lion man­aged by the PIC.

“The com­mis­sion gained a strong im­pres­sion that while the fund con­trolled such large re­sources, it had very lit­tle idea of how best to spend the funds.

“It seems clear from the ac­tu­ar­ial re­port that the util­i­sa­tion of R50 bil­lion for the ben­e­fit of ed­u­ca­tion would hardly scratch the sur­face of the fund’s re­sources,” the re­port reads.

The re­port states that it be­came ap­par­ent dur­ing tes­ti­mony by UIF of­fi­cials that the fund had for many years op­er­ated as a money lender, ac­cu­mu­lat­ing huge an­nual sur­pluses which it rein­vested, re­sult­ing in greater re­turns.

The com­mis­sion strongly rec­om­mended that laws be amended to al­low sur­plus UIF funds to be “ear­marked for the up­grad­ing of the TVET sec­tor”.

The UIF, how­ever, pro­posed us­ing only 5% of its port­fo­lio al­lo­cated to stu­dent ac­com­mo­da­tion.

PHOTO: ASHRAF HEN­DRICKS / GROUNDUP

STU­DENT AC­TIVISTS Protesters blocked an ac­cess road at the Univer­sity of Cape Town dur­ing #FeesMustFall protests on Thurs­day. Later that day the univer­sity an­nounced a pro­posed 8% tu­ition fee in­crease and 10% res­i­dence fee in­crease

De­cline in Ns­fas re­pay­ments

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