Free tertiary education very possible in SA

2010-03-11 14:41

The South African Students Congress (SASCO) staged a protest march last Friday advocating for free education, in particular at institutions of higher learning.

I just wish SASCO could have formed a united front for this particular cause with other student structures, including their rivals on campuses, and external civil society organisations.

I take it SASCO does not subscribe the notion of kopano ke matla (unity is the power). If that’s case, then I forgive them.

They however, have a chance to correct things in 2011 protest march for free education.

In 2007, I challenged Prof Barney Pityana on the same issue of free tertiary education while he was addressing the Anglican Students’ Federation’s annual conference held in Mafikeng.

In the very same conference, he uttered that the current student generation, without making any references to racial groups, does not aspire to become academics or even study beyond their first degree and diploma which I vehemently disagreed with him.

Relatively speaking, the Prof got it all wrong, for there are a lot of challenges that still confront students from very poor background, which he chooses to overlook, when it comes to further education.

Families invest their last cents on their beacons of hope, students, and in many cases families deprive themselves of several important things for the education of their “diamonds”.

The tricky part is that once one has completed his/her first degree or diploma, that particular graduate is expected to return investments to the family by going straight to the industry.

The responsibility of rooting out poverty in their families automatically rests upon their shoulders, which is often a big load for a young life.

For this fact, many students aspiring to enrol for their Btechs, Honours and even Masters programmes end up not doing so.

Only a handful get opportunities to study beyond the first degrees/diplomas.

Responding to my question on the possibility of South Africa providing free tertiary education, Prof Pityana said South Africa can never have free tertiary education.

His responses were not pleasurable for many delegates and disappointed me dearly.

Each time young people demand free education, the powers that be are very quick to mention National Student Financial Aids Scheme (NSFAS).

I wish to mention to them, not that they are not aware, that NSFAS does not equal to free education at tertiary institutions; and in many cases, students end up paying much more than the actual fees due to accumulating monthly areas.

Even the 60% bursary which students are eligible to when they perform well, it is regained through areas because NSFAS start harassing students with statements in their first year of study.

The worse part is students who fail to settle their NSFAS loans, for various reasons including being unemployed, are blacklisted at the credit bureau. I honestly think that is pathetic; who concurs with me on this one?

Having free education for undergraduates at this fragile stage of our democracy might be a bit ambitious, problematic and doesn’t have the potential of yielding desired results.

That, however, doesn’t mean it can never happen in South Africa as Prof Pityana argued in 2007.

Imagine this, which I strongly believe is possible, that graduates who complete their first degrees be afforded an opportunity to do their postgraduate programmes free of charge.

The reader might argue that some people will end up being permanent students without actually progressing; I counter that by proposing that students shall pay for any failed modules if they wished to continue with a particular programme, and shall not be allowed to enroll for a totally new programme at any institution of higher learning free of charge in the country.

I strongly believe that these will encourage the culture and spirit of learning and life-long-learning for those who take studying as an intellectual vocation.
One might wonder where money will be sourced to finance free tertiary education; I say they must go and get more money wherever they got plenty for arms deal.

Perhaps the country needs to enter into a healthy debate of nationalisation of mines as it might be very relevant for this cause.

When I was a student at the University of the Western Cape, the Rector and Vice Chancellor of the institution, Prof Brian O’Connell, shared with us his thoughts that postgraduate students need to get paid in this country so that they may support their families.

These will in turn ease the economical pressure that young graduates are challenged with in relation to their families.

I always argued that South Africa needs highly qualified people if we are serious about developing this country into being what we desire it to be; tenderpreneurs alone can not deliver us from the legacy of apartheid.

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