Amidst the #FeesMustFall campaigns against the increase of fees by universities, many questions remain unanswered with the resumption of the 2017 academic year.
Most universities have announced an 8% increase in fees.
The decision was made after the minister of Higher Education, Dr Blade Nzimande, gave the green light that individual universities can determine the percentage with which they increase their fees, capped at a maximum of 8%, and no increase for the category of needy students.
The greatest fear is that the increase will flare up the already tense situation in higher learning institutions.
It is interesting that the campaign manifested itself in multiple facets.
Amongst others, it brought an old debate about the decolonisation of education back to the centre stage.
It also galvanised radical young female activists across racial lines, reminding us of the generation of the 1976 student uprising that took to the streets, ultimately changing socio–politics in South Africa.
Leigh-Ann Naidoo acknowledged this in her piece “Contemporary Student Politics in South Africa” in a book titled Students Must Rise.
She highlighted there was a significant change in thinking about education and society from 1969 onwards, when the South African Student Organisation stopped fighting for “equality” in education, or education equal to white education, and started criticising white, privileged education as a dominating education.
This is an indication that discontent amongst black South Africans has been brewing for years.
During the #FeesMustFall protest, you could hear students questioning the 1994 project by asking questions such as “what was achieved”, “what is still outstanding”, “did we expedite the real needs of students post 1994”, “was the change after the new dispensation merely cosmetic” and “was it ideal to open the doors of higher learning to people of previously disadvantaged backgrounds without considering their socio-economic needs”.
An urgent need for meaningful community engagement is needed. Just like during the anti-apartheid struggle, sustainable community-based structures must be built, focusing on all levels of education.
It cannot be that we build structures, for example community policing forums, yet we ignore important sectors such as education in a developmental state like ours.
Pre-1994, most people from disadvantaged communities empowered themselves via long distance learning – a model the University of South Africa (Unisa) has mastered and continues doing so in a technologically-driven era.
My question is: Do we need warm bodies attending lectures under the roofs of universities or can the same quality of education via technological means like e-learning be able to provide a more affordable alternative to those who cannot afford the costs of attending institutions of higher learning? The costs include accommodation, books, meals and general expenses.
The advance in technology has changed the approach in tuition and course delivery. Research does show that blended instructions could offer advantages to institutions of higher learning and students’ bodies.
- It is high time that our knowledge industry is made convenient and accessible to the needy and that the government and role players in the education sector explore other options such as e-learning, especially to those who are interested in furthering their education at institutions of higher learning. Qondile Khedama, a communications practitioner and Mangaung Metro’s head of communication, writes in his personal capacity.