No free for all…
THE REPORT headlined “Blade runner” by Malcolm Ray (11 June) doesn’t do credit to a serious journal such as Finweek. The entire report was based on an incorrect premise: that Blade Nzimande, the new Minister of Higher Education and Training (whose adviser I’m about to become), wants to introduce free undergraduate tuition at South African universities.
Nzimande has never said he wants to do that. He’s committed to the policy adopted at the ANC’s Polokwane conference that commits the ANC to “progressively introduce free education for the poor until undergraduate level”. The ANC election manifesto stated it would “encourage students from working class and poor communities to go to tertiary institutions by reviewing and improving the National Student Financial Aid Scheme” (NSFAS).
Nzimande has only recently established a ministerial committee to review the NSFAS, with the intention of ensuring it better serves the interests of students who qualify to attend university but can’t afford to do so. Contrary to Ray’s assertion that he wants to introduce free higher education, Nzimande has recently stated publicly it makes little sense for the Government to be paying the fees of students who can afford them.
The real economic question here isn’t whether Government can afford to fund more students but where South Africa will get enough skilled workers and leaders in the future if it does not. Government won’t spend money carelessly; but it also prudently refrains from throwing away talented youth who can’t afford to develop their potential to contribute fully to their own and their country’s future.
The entire tone of Ray’s report indicates his main interest is in peddling his own deeply held Afro-pessimism and trashing the Government at all costs.
Director, Centre for Education Policy Development and, from 1 July 2009, special adviser to the Minister
of Higher Education and Training, Johannesburg