Not any closer to ending our shame
FOR MORE than two years, the #FeesMustFall movement has highlighted the hardships experienced by black students in tertiary education. The concerns have been expressed via talks, boycotts and protests – peaceful and violent.
Poor, overwhelmingly black, students do not have rich parents who can pay for their studies. Many sleep in corridors at universities. And a shocking number struggle to buy one meal a day. This is our national shame. Let us reiterate: while state coffers are being looted and state-owned enterprises plundered to the tune of billions of rand, the plight of our students – our future generation of leaders – is being ignored.
Many parents in lowly jobs work their fingers to the bone to get their children into universities. They know that the best way to break the spiral of poverty is through education. This is why the number of black graduates with degrees more than quadrupled between 1994 and 2014 (11 339 to 20 513).
We owe every child the opportunity to attend an institution of higher learning – if they have the ability and if they wish to do so. This is why we are disappointed that free education will not be immediately available, according to the Heher Commission of Inquiry into the funding of higher education in South Africa. Judge Jonathan Heher, assisted by advocate Gregory Ally and Leah Khumalo, concluded that tertiary education should be funded through a cost-sharing model that included the government and banks. The report recommended that students at technical colleges should be allowed to study for free.
Some will see a bright side: South Africa has a shortage of artisans, and fees-free colleges will help strengthen numbers in this field. But, we believe, some of the other changes proposed are holding measures: for instance, it’s hard to see the replacing of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme by income-contingent loans making things easier for poor students. They will still be caught in a debt spiral.
We urge students and the government to continue working towards a funding system that will work – and which, as soon as possible, will make free education possible.