Let’s focus on Heher report
THE release of the Heher Commission report should have afforded South Africans a chance to have meaningful conversations about access to higher education – and the costs associated with it.
President Jacob Zuma finally released the much-anticipated report on Monday. It was prepared by a commission headed by retired Judge Jonathan Heher – set up by Zuma following the chaotic #FeesMustFall protests which engulfed university campuses in 2015. It comes at a time, when reports suggest that Zuma is planning to announce free tertiary education for students who come from families who are earning less than R350 000 per annum. Interestingly, the Zuma plan, which is not included in the Heher Commission report, will also mark a policy shift for the ANC as none of its conferences discussed it. The Heher report makes a number of recommendations, but the key one being that the state does not have the fiscal capacity to afford free higher education and training. A compromise suggested by the commission is that studying at Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges should be free for all. To make this possible, the state would tap into the R50-billion surplus of the Unemployment Insurance Fund which could be used towards infrastructure development of the TVET colleges.
Heher also suggested a cost-sharing model between the government and private banks, wherein the financial institutions will provide loans to university students. But more importantly though, the Heher report, makes it clear that those who can afford to pay for higher education should continue to pay.
From the report, it is clear that the commission that consulted widely and the recommendations are a fair summary of the workable options available for government.
But it seems that Zuma is not interested in what the report says. Even Heher is not confident that the president will implement it. He told Media24: “You know he [Zuma] can put our report on the top shelf if he wishes and ignore it. That is up to him. What the president does about it or doesn’t do about it is entirely in his discretion”.
It seems that is exactly what Zuma intends doing. Zuma favours the education model suggested by his daughter’s ex-boyfriend, Morris Masutha.
Consternation within the Treasury over the viability of the Masutha model has already led to the resignation of the Treasury’s deputy director-general Michael Sachs who was responsible for the country’s budgeting process. The revelation that Masutha was a spy when he led #FeesMustFall protests at Wits, suggests that underhanded tactics could have been used to create a crisis. Could it be that state security manipulated legitimate student protests to create countrywide turmoil so that Zuma could get an opportunity to make populist policy decisions? The reality is that the Masutha plan is distracting South Africans from having a frank conversation about how the country can ensure access to higher education to the thousands of young people who are deserving but cannot afford it.
It is Heher’s report we should be debating, not the Masutha sideshow.