No last­ing so­lu­tion on fees

CityPress - - Voices -

Two years ago, gov­ern­ment be­gan to take no­tice of the burn­ing is­sue of fee-free ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion. It was burn­ing be­cause stu­dents in the coun­try’s uni­ver­si­ties were lit­er­ally set­ting things alight to force gov­ern­ment to recog­nise their plight.

Ahead of ev­ery elec­tion since 1994, the ANC has sought votes on the ticket of “free qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion” for all. It has been 23 years since the demo­cratic dis­pen­sa­tion be­gan and this prom­ise has not been re­alised.

This week, it emerged that Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s Pres­i­den­tial Fis­cal Com­mit­tee is rec­om­mend­ing that cuts be made in sev­eral ar­eas to find the money to sup­port fee-free ed­u­ca­tion.

This comes af­ter re­tired Judge Jonathan He­her told Zuma that the coun­try could not af­ford fee-free ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion as en­vis­aged by stu­dents. He­her headed a com­mis­sion ap­pointed by Zuma to in­ves­ti­gate the fea­si­bil­ity of a fee-free ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, and he has rec­om­mended dif­fer­ent fund­ing models to en­sure ac­cess to ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion for all who de­serve it.

Fi­nance Min­is­ter Malusi Gi­gaba’s hands are also tied thanks to the un­der-col­lec­tion of taxes and an econ­omy that is not grow­ing.

Zuma re­ceived He­her’s re­port in Au­gust and has said that he has been study­ing it and work­ing with an in­ter­min­is­te­rial com­mit­tee to im­ple­ment the rec­om­men­da­tions. In the mean­time, uni­ver­si­ties are un­sure of where they stand, and stu­dents are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly ag­i­tated over the lack of in­for­ma­tion as next year’s fees be­come due.

While any at­tempts to find funds for fee-free ed­u­ca­tion could be a good thing, it is, how­ever, clear that the pro­posed cuts by the Pres­i­den­tial Fis­cal Com­mit­tee are short-sighted and do not pro­vide a last­ing so­lu­tion to the prob­lem.

With the clock tick­ing on his time in of­fice, Zuma has no dis­cernible legacy and ap­pears to be forc­ing this is­sue so that he can leave on a good note.

Other than rob­bing Peter to pay Paul, there is no plan. It is time for Zuma to re­lease He­her’s re­port. At the same time, while there is a clear need for free ed­u­ca­tion, the pres­i­dent must ar­tic­u­late a com­pre­hen­sive, long-term strat­egy. And he needs to do this in a trans­par­ent man­ner.

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