Not any closer to end­ing our shame

The Star Late Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

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.

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