No lasting solution on fees
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.