Nationalise to pay student fees: EFF

University of the Western Cape protest. Image GroundUp

The Economic Freedom  Fighters notes the long overdue Fees Commission Report as released by President Jacob Zuma on Monday. The EFF rejects the recommendations of the report to the fundamental question in terms of its terms of reference which is to investigate “The feasibility of making higher education and training (higher education) fee-free in South Africa.” To this important question, the report’s answer is segregation of students by giving those who attend TVETS a fee-free education and denying it to those who attend universities. Mbuyiseni Ndlovu, an EFF MP, writes

The commission’s justification for this segregation of students into TVETs and universities is based on two logics; one is that the state can only afford, within its current fiscal framework, to fund “some” students. As a result, the students that must be given priority are TVET students because they have a capacity to immediately feed into much-needed skills in the economy. In addition, lessons from successful economies are that they have well-funded training colleges, thus we too must do the same with our TVETS.

Secondly, the commission seems to suggest that those who attend universities can afford, whilst those who attend TVETS are in the main poor. It proposes an income contingent loan for those who cannot afford study within universities, in particular, the missing middle.

Mbuyiseni Ndlozi. Image eNCA

However, we know that already South Africans are over-indebted, thus young people will simply transition from youth to adulthood in indebtedness. The commission is, therefore, asking the country to simply position the responsibility on future taxpayers and it is not sustainable. The numbers are that 1 in 8 children get to university, and 1 in 17 graduate. Then only 12% of a starting cohort of SA students will ever access university and only 6% will get some kind of undergraduate qualification – this is an undesirable status which we should aim to change as opposed to using it as a basis to continue the statuesque. It is also based on the false assumption that it is a fixed variable which cannot be changed.

We also know that 10% of children from the poorest 70% qualify to go to university compared to more than 40% among the wealthiest 10% – this present two problematic issues:

1.     It means where you are born essentially determines the likelihood of whether you go to the university or not, and it is something that must be fought now, as it forms part of addressing class inequalities.

2.     Then there is the 50% of the missing middle that (even the definition of missing middle is not convincing given the indebtedness of the so-called middle class) that we are subject to further loans which in future will deplete their disposal income and make it impossible to own assets.

3.     The richest 10% of households receive 48% of government’s university subsidy in 2011

In essence, the Commission’s recommendations imply a class segregation in which we reproduce universities as destination centres for the rich and TVET colleges as destination centres for the poor. This segregation will also take the form of race, where predominantly black students will attend TVET colleges, and the majority of white students will attend universities.

We, therefore, reject the recommendations as they will sustain a segregated student community where the poor, no matter how talented intellectually they are, will go to TVET colleges. And the rich, no matter how intellectually untalented they are, will go to universities. The point is to make education and training only about talent and comprehensive development of human resources and not about affordability.

The EFF believes that all students in South Africa can be funded by our government regardless of whether they choose TVET or University qualifications. The EFF has made concrete proposals regarding the expansion of our tax base by nationalising mines and banks to allow the government to source more funding for higher education and training.

The responsibility of educating young people must not be placed on a loan scheme from the private sector. It must be placed on the government. It was always in the liberation perspective that to fund education government must expand its tax base or look beyond its immediate fiscal framework. This is how nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy was justified.

The EFF believes it to be a matter of human rights for education to be de-commodified. Thus, unless we get the political leadership that is willing to nationalise the mines and banks to expand its fiscal capabilities, education will always be the preserve of the rich as it is recommended by the Higher Commission. A free decolonized education will only be possible under the EFF leadership.

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