Neglecting higher education and its cost will be at our peril - political economist

2015-10-27 16:48


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Johannesburg - If South Africa does not pay sufficient attention to the  higher education sector and its cost, it will be doing so at its "very great peril".

So said senior research fellow at think-tank Trade Collective and political economist Liepollo Lebohang Pheko, who told News24 on Tuesday that a country's advancement is directly linked to the number of graduates and especially post-graduates its higher education system produced.

"I've been saying this for the past couple of weeks. There is a correlation between the number of graduates that we produce, especially the master's and PhD graduates and GDP [gross domestic product] growth," Pheko said.

"There is a strong correlation in almost every country. The higher the number of graduates you produce, the greater your economic growth. These are the people who produce ideas, who are able to produce the kind of critical mass technological innovations that move a country forward," she said.

The discussion on higher education and its cost was sparked two weeks ago when Wits University students started protesting against a proposed 10.5% fee increase at Johannesburg's oldest university.

Their protest spread to campuses across South Africa last week, with thousands of students protesting against the rising cost of higher education, and other issues such as worker outsourcing.

President Jacob Zuma announced on Friday a freeze on university fees increases for next year.

Asked if the ANC had shown clear policy direction in higher education - as there were suggestions the ruling party had muddled its way through - Pheko said policy direction had been a bit of a "mixed bag".

It was important to recognise the relationship between the ANC and government regarding policy direction, since there was a strong interface between the two, Pheko said.

"It is incredibly confusing sometimes and does lead to some problematic bottlenecks between intent and implementation," she said.

She said other questions included what kind of economy did South Africa want in the next 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, and even 100 years, and what kind of technical capacities did the country need to develop to achieve that.

"How many doctors do we need? How many technicians do we need? How many IT specialists do we need, and so on. We have to do that really finite maths," Pheko said.

Read more on:    education  |  university fees  |  protests

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