Why target universities only as a free-for-all?

2016-10-02 06:03
Protesting students. (News24)

Protesting students. (News24)

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Why are protesting students not shutting down homes, taxis, private hospitals, telecommunications and supermarkets in solidarity with citizens who have no access to these services?

This question may sound ludicrous, but I consider it valid if the logic adopted by students of the #FeesMustFall movement was applied everywhere else.

Theirs has been a logic backed by actions such as dragging peers out of lecture halls, chasing staff out of offices, tearing up test papers and disrupting normal academic life at universities.

I write this opinion piece in my personal capacity as a single parent and ordinary citizen with particular interest in South Africa’s university education.

I am paying for my daughter’s university education from my monthly salary, and so have first-hand experience of the costs involved.

I hope my opinion finds resonance with the silent voices of parents and students who, though empathetic with the plight of poor students, also have the right to see the 2016 academic year concluded productively for those who want to reap returns from their hard-earned investment.

In our unequal society – and particularly in this economic downturn – we have seen a rise in homelessness, if the increasing number of people sleeping and bathing out in the open are anything to go by.

The inner cities of Pretoria and Johannesburg – and virtually every open space in the suburbs I frequent – are now occupied by people who have nowhere to retreat to at night.

People occupy derelict buildings; they sleep on verandas of inner-city edifices; they wash in parks.

And the number of beggars on street corners has swollen.

In the same vein, adverts of residential properties and automobiles on auction indicate rising insolvency in society.

And countless domestic workers remain condemned to one mode of transport as they make their way to and from work.

They still walk for kilometres after one train ride as they cannot afford to pay again to catch a bus or taxi from the train station.

Add to all of these categories youngsters who cannot access tertiary education because the price tag is simply out of reach.

Evidence of people unable to afford one or other necessity is rife, and extends to food and cellphone prices too.

However, we do not see a response to deprivation in these areas the way we see students meting out their frustrations against universities.

Are the Fallists not aware that tertiary education is susceptible to inflation like all other products and services?

A trolley of groceries costs three times what it did five years ago, and food prices continue to rise. So do the costs of transport, housing, energy, telecommunications and all other commodities.

We whine as consumers, but we do not react to this phenomenon like the Class of 2015/16 does to soaring university costs.

Voices from the university community have written extensively about inadequate funding for this sector in South Africa.

Individuals demonstrated how declining state subsidies to universities over the past two decades led to an inevitable increase in tuition fees, to maintain revenue at levels conducive to upholding quality education.

One has to experience the rich content given in lecture halls to appreciate the cost of university education.

It takes quality academics, world-class facilities and research to yield credible qualifications that lead to decent jobs, not to mention enabling our country to compete on the world stage.

The men and women who deliver their respective subject matter have spent years researching and contributing their bit to the knowledge project.

These educators, who nurture and grow our youngsters into productive professionals, deserve fitting rewards.

Salaries are just one aspect of spending for universities.

Without debating the merits of this issue – much has already been said about the current feasibility of free universal education in South Africa – the question I am asking is:

If students are shutting down universities in protest against the high cost of education, why are they not applying the same mind-set to other social infrastructure?

Why do they not demand free food, shut down the telecommunications system or demand free rides on taxis, trains, buses and planes – in the name of social justice?

And why not demand absolutely free medical care for all?

If these questions sound absurd, try to apply the same logic to the current shutdown of universities.

Even if the state declared free university education for all today, universities in their current capacity would still only be able to absorb 1 million students.

That would not achieve the state’s goal of providing access to all. We cannot deny our institutions the right to function, nor students their right to complete their education, just because others cannot afford it.

Parents, are any of you listening?

Green is a deeply concerned parent

Read more on:    university fees  |  university protests

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