The South African Students’ Congress notes the final release of the much-awaited report of the commission of inquiry into higher education. This report is as a result of the protracted student protests against skyrocketing fees of higher education which heightened specifically during the 2015 and the 2016 academic years resulting in country-wide shutdowns.
As a result of the mounting pressure from students across the political pendulum, the President of the country commissioned a study into the feasibility of fee-free education in South Africa, amongst other terms of reference. The commission headed by retired Judge Jonathan Heher was due to release its findings and recommendations by late 2016.
SASCO participated in the work of the commission and made some substantive submissions albeit our conviction that the commission was a waste of limited state resources and a delay tactic to implement progressive policies by government.
As an organization, we are still carefully studying the report and engaging with our structures and supporters. It, however, suffices to make the following observations:
The report vindicates us on our long-held view that the commission was a complete waste of time and resources as the question of the feasibility of free education in South Africa was long pronounced on by the Prof. Marcus Balintulo commission, the former VC of WSU, and current commissioner of the planning commission.
What this report has done is actually to take us steps back. The Higher commission was infested with unnecessary delays and used as a cash milking cow for the commissioners. The commission exposed the internal limitations of government and the ruling party on investing in internal capacity for progressive policy formulation.
We maintain that policy formulation cannot be delegated to bureaucrats, technocrats and jurists, but that process is a function of an ideologically conscious government with the requisite political will and determination.
Noting experiences from comparable economies, the proposal of a 1% expenditure of the GDP on higher education as a whole, is not in line with the government’s plan of the reprioritization of education as an apex priority. Thus there is no clear, cogent plan of sourcing funding for that reprioritization.
The meagre 1% proposal is sheer mediocrity in the South African reality where huge chunks of our youth are NEET not because of their doing but because of the harshness of the legacy of their past and the capitalist political economy. Education has become one of the most important tools for the economic liberation of our people and as such requires enough commitment and funding.
Acknowledging that there is a student accommodation crisis in our country and that safe and habitable student accommodation facilities are an ingredient for student success and human dignity; government should, therefore, invest in the establishment of reliable student accommodation with concomitant plans of student transportation.
The public-private partnership proposal is not enough especially when considering challenges of privatization, overcharging of rental areas, safety questions and the general student housing crisis. We still maintain our position of institutional capacity building and investment, the establishment of student villages and the insourcing of all core functions of our institutions. The Department of human settlement can play a role in this instance.
We are perplexed at the recommendation that students who have historical debt must be offered income contingent loans. This proposal, in essence, sentences students to a debt life sentence by suggesting that students and former students, who are already in debt because of loans, must be offered yet another loan to service an existing loan/debt.
This is more surprising when proposed by a commission established after some interventions have been made in the past to clear students off their historical debts. This proposal must be out rightly rejected. We demand to clear of historical debt for students falling into a defined category of those who cannot afford.
Consistent with our CC approach. However, the proposals for a wholly subsidised-free education for all TVET students and the ring-fencing of R50 billion for infrastructural development in the sector must be welcomed. The TVET sector is an essential developmental sector for our country’s prosperity.
We ought to make TVET colleges institutions of choice which are attractive to prospective students and their qualifications attractive to the employer. There must be synergy between a TVET qualification and a University postgraduate qualification. An investment in the sector is an investment in the future of our nation.
Similarly, the proposed intervention on the scrapping of both application fees and registration fees must be welcomed. These interventions are victories to the student movement, the working class and the poor. We made the calls for their scrapping after realising the devastating effects they had on access to higher education for the poor because many working class offspring could not access higher education because of these fees. This intervention must be applied immediately as it pertains to the 2018 academic year.
We vehemently reject the Income Contingent Loan system proposal for funding of University students. This recommendation is aimed at nothing other than reinforcing the profit maximization program of the Banks and the private sector. The ICL recommendation puts the student in the worst position than they are, under the NSFAS scheme.
The ICL further entrenches commodification of education where knowledge production and accumulation are for sale like a product on the counter. It further minimizes the role of the state in that the contracting parties to the purchase and sale contract are on arbitrarily footings. The bank decides on whether or not to grant a loan, and the state only participates once the loan has been granted as surety.
The ICLS is nothing but a bank influenced recommendation which reverses the gains of the student movement. It places the security of the bank recovering its loans, with interest, at the centre of a noble program of access to education. It is the reversal of the advances made through government loans provided through NSFAS of which some of them were even convertible into grants.
The ICLS is profit and corporate style driven and should be rejected with the contempt it deserves. Our call for the participation of the private sector did not mean that the private sector must further derive profits from the poor and the working class, but we wanted direct investment into education for the private sector remain the major beneficiaries of education.
The ICL and ISFAP are just two sides of the same coin. The creation of an impression that they are alternatives is a tactic to dribble the poor. The philosophy of both these models is bank/corporate inspired. There is no fundamental difference which they have on the impact to the working class students. We, therefore, must reject both.
Our call for the creation of an education fund did not mean that the corporate community must donate at their subjective will. We must not “encourage” the private sector but coerce them to contribute. We must increase the skills levy by a nominal 1% which will be ring-fenced for the education fund and specifically committed to higher education and training.
Whereas we accept some of the recommendations as it relates to the TVET sector and the scrapping of application and registration fees; it is our conviction that the President must simply shred this report as the crux of it, is the privatization of higher education funding and the further divide of the post-schooling education and training sector. There seems to be a complete disregard of progressive submissions and an acceptance of what “makes business sense”.
The South African Students’ Congress, therefore, rejects the fees commission report and calls upon the President as a deployed of the governing ANC to implement the resolutions of the ANC NPC and Lekgotla resolutions. These resolutions were a supplement to the 10-year-old Polokwane resolution. In our NGC we declared 2017 as the year of “free quality education”. Tomorrow is too late, we are impatient, and we can no longer wait.
The government must implement the first phase of free education by 2018 through forcing the private sector, increasing government allocation towards education, scrapping application and registration fees, improving and providing accommodation facilities, assisting the missing middle and dismantling the doors of learning and culture.
The instruction to our structures is that the 2018 academic year must not commence unless there is a free education. Our 20th National Congress scheduled for 4th to the 8th of December 2017 must devise strategies and tactics to ensure fulfillment of this instruction.
Issued by the NEC
For more information:
Thabo Moloja- President
Tembani Makata – Secretary-General
083 441 4521