Is Free Education Possible In South Africa?

Student unrest has been the pinnacle of South Africa's tertiary education sphere. Cleverly themed #FeesMustFall, students across the country downed classes and went on nationwide protests that captured the international communities attention. The student protest movement was orchestrated after a fees increase throughout South Africa's universities. The Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande, announced that fees would be increased by 8% in 2017 and that news did not sit down well with the students.

Students then took to the streets burning vehicles and university buildings with one message on the radar. Their message was loud and clear – they will not accept any fees increases.

The cost of the damaged property was estimated by the Department of Higher Education to be worth an estimated us$44.25 million.

This is not a political movement but it is a student movement meant to protect the future of tertiary education in South Africa. University fees have for several years been increased on a yearly basis which places a barrier to education for several students who come from poor families. Yet the right to education is what led to the Soweto Uprising in 1976,” said Victor Moloi, a student at the University of Johannesburg.

Victor’s sentiments are being echoed by millions of fellow students who rightfully believe that access to basic tertiary level education is their ‘birth right’. While calm has temporarily been restored by president Jacob Zuma’s government, the fees war is far from being over as the students haves vowed to continue protesting until their grievances have been met.

But in a growing economy such as South Africa’s, is free education possible? Youth Time Southern Africa correspondent Farai Diza delves into the heart of it all.

South Africa has vastly grown as a democratic state since pulling out of the Apartheid doldrums in 1994. It’s economy is mostly centered around the mining, engineering, manufacturing, industrial, farming and tourism industries with exports being a catalyst driver.

The weakening local currency (South African Rand) has been plummeting down at free will. The current exchange rate between the Rand and the American Dollar has fallen by about 22%. This has put a big strain on many industries that include the tertiary education sector.

The government spends approximately 0.75% of the GDP on tertiary education which analysts have attested it being far less than the African and global average.

South Africa’s education wars stem back to the economic recession that battered several global economies. Universities have tremendously suffered from funding shortfalls which has often led to many students unable to finish their education.

A renowned researcher at the Johannesburg Da Vinci Institute, Dr Chimwechiyi Ndoziva, believes that the funding of higher education in South Africa is a tantamount process that could take years on end.

“Financing higher education is always a difficult process and there are a lot of challenges involved. The government would it difficult and it is just not possible to have free education in the country. In fact, the access to free tertiary education will not be a viable solution,” he attested.

Dr Ndoziva’s sentiments can be linked to the country’s university education time line. From 2010 thought to 2013, fees at all 23 public universities increased from R12.2 billion to R15.5 billion while enrolment increased by just 7%. As a result, student debt rose by a walloping 31%.

In an interview with a local publication, the University of Witwatersrand vice Chancellor, Adam Habib, divulged that if the government could provide an extra R8 billion per year, it would cover the tuition fees of every student at all universities in the country.

Tabling the countries Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) in Parliament in October, under fire Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan testified that universities and students would receive an additional R17 billion to the current R9 billion for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme. It will also be boasted with more than R8 billion to meet the costs of fee increases for students from households with incomes up to R600 000.

Summing it all up, free tertiary education in South Africa is currently not feasible. A lot of strategical work still needs to be done by the government.

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