Business can’t stand by idly during the student fees crisis

Thero Setiloane, CEO of Business Leadership South Africa. Picture: Gallo Images/Robert Tshabalala
Thero Setiloane, CEO of Business Leadership South Africa. Picture: Gallo Images/Robert Tshabalala

Johannesburg - If businesses want to be able to employ a certain calibre of future leaders, they need to stop sitting on the sidelines when it comes to the student fees crisis, said Thero Setiloane, the CEO of Business Leadership SA.

On Friday, the association issued a call to all members to get involved by sharing their own data on bursary programmes and by examining how both government and private-sector funding is ­being spent.

“Government can’t come and say business must help, and the help you must give us is just ‘give us money’, when the problem is actually more than money,” Setiloane said.

“Giving money is fine, but what happens with that money? Is it going to get squandered? We didn’t get into the situation we’re in by accident and, quite frankly, it’s going to require more than money to get us out of this situation.”

While Setiloane believes business leaders could make a valuable contribution to the debate, Business Leadership SA is also acutely aware that it “can’t jump in unannounced”, and so – as a starting point – it is calling on all members to start ­sharing their experiences of their own funding programmes.

“We have to establish from our membership what we are doing … This ­misconception that business is doing nothing for the universities is wrong,” he said.

“Let us look at our scholarships – is it enough? Let us look at ourselves, ­because there’s no guarantee that we will be invited to this debate.”

According to the association, it costs at least R100 000 a year to get an undergraduate student through university.

“Business Leadership SA is asking its members to reflect on and review their own substantial links to both our ­national universities and the students who study there. We are seeking to gather precise data on the nature of these links,” the association said on Friday.

The risk, if we fail to get this right, ­Setiloane said, was enormous.

“We will be handing over a dysfunctional education system with no way of getting out,” he said.

“We will not have the calibre of ­students or leaders or workers that are going to take this country forward.”

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