No free for all…

Finweek English Edition - - Letters - JOHN PAM­PAL­LIS

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

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