How #feesCANfall

AS PROTESTS flare up again at South African universities, the issue of free education makes it back into political debate. So far, the responses by the government and university managements have been ad hoc and haphazard. Instead of tackling the issue head-on right after 2015’s protests, the government has been plodding along. So have most university leaders.

This lack of preventive governance seems to have become a trademark of our country. We have long known about the likelihood of severe droughts including the serious strain they place on water provision, yet no serious planning has taken place. On the contrary, we keep supporting mining operations, industrial agriculture, coal-fired stations and nuclear plants as if this infrastructure did not require massive amounts of water we don’t possess.

We have been heading for food and energy shortages, yet obsolescence and distribution bottlenecks are not addressed. We keep investing in highly inefficient “big is beautiful” projects that waste resources and fuel corruption, instead of supporting small-scale farming and decentralised renewable energy systems that can contribute meaningfully to our food and energy security.

We know that the economy keeps shrinking and there is no way we can tackle the multiple challenges of poverty eradication and sustainable development through conventional approaches. Yet we close our eyes and hope that a magical turn of events will get us out of this mess.

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande’s announcement that the state will cover the fee increases for the most disadvantaged students and the so-called missing middle is certainly a step forward. But it’s not a long-term solution given public budget constraints. For many students, it is not a solution at all as it doesn’t attend to the overarching call for free education. Moreover, an 8% increase comes at a time of prolonged economic hardship for many better-off households. It is hard not to side with students when the government finds money for all sorts of extravagances, from unnecessary home security upgrades to bailouts for poorly managed airlines and multibillion-rand nuclear deals, but never has enough to support things that really matter, such as education.

 

Read full article on Business Day: http://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/2016-09-22-let-us-find-win-win-ways-to-make-education-affordable/

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