Sources of funding for free higher education still remain a mystery and the panelists, students and education activists attending a symposium on the topic at Tshisimani Centre were concerned that other government programs might be affected.
Funding for fee free education is a positive development but it is still not clear how the government is going to generate the funds without affecting other government programs said panelists, education activists and students at a one-day symposium held at Tshisimani Centre on Saturday.
Fee free education has been an issue since the dawn of democracy but it took a different turn when students from various universities in 2015 ran battles with their respective university administrations, the Ministry of Higher Education and the police, leading in some cases to the deferral of examinations.
The unfolding events put pressure on the governing party and a commission on the feasibility of free higher education was established. Former president Jacob Zuma last year opportunistically announced funding for fee free education a few hours before the African National Congress’s elective conference.
“Fee free education is desirable and a great development that could benefit those with potential for higher education. Unfortunately, it is not clear how the money is going to be generated,” said Prof Narend Baijnath CEO of Council On Higher Education who was one of the panelists.
According to Prof Baijnath, government should be careful not to disturb other government programs already in progress.
“In principle funding for fee free education is a good idea because it will help students from poor backgrounds not to struggle getting to universities and technical colleges but the big question is where will the government get the money and are other government programs not going to suffer because of the cut on the funding,” said Nomalanga Mkhize a professor at Nelson Mandela University.
According to Mkhize, Zuma’s announcement was part of his political survival adding that the policy should work without affecting other government initiatives.
Thembeka Majali, an activist attending the symposium said, “The idea of funding for fee free education is a noble one but the problem is if we have people working in treasury who are against this policy then we are heading for a total collapse of the system.”
Asked where funding should come from Majali said, “Government must use Public Investment Corporation to fund free education and increase corporate tax.”
If the system is implemented student movements should monitor and constantly engage with the government says Majali.
Another activist, Noncedo Zwane said, “Its not very clear where the funding is coming from but it seems the bulk of it is from tax payer’s money. I believe government should ask those individuals who own mines or very rich people like the Guptas to help funding this.” According to Zwane the idea is good but the system should be monitored.
In attendance were some students from higher learning institutions.
“Disadvantaged families must really benefit from this system but this is not what we wanted. The system should really work for the poor at all levels irrespective of what level or year one is studying,”‘ said Vuyo Tshingila a third-year student at Nelson Mandela University. The increase in tax according to Tshingila is not a sustainable method.
“The government is again putting pressure on the previously disadvantaged families by increasing tax. For sustainability I believe the government should tax corporates and super rich people,” she said.
Tshepo Khoqeane studying Tourism at Northlink College in Cape Town said free education should not only focus on universities. “The funding should be for all students who intend studying at higher learning institutions. The funding for fee free education seems to be focusing only on university students.”
Khoqeane is looking forward to this fee free education.
“It is very difficult to access funds from NSFAS. They require a lot of documentation so if the system is implemented it will bring relief to us,” he said.