Common Sense 101: the Absent Curriculum

2016-07-14 07:34

Anyone wanting to be taken seriously – whether in business or life in general – knows that the first rule of thumb in any enterprise is: do your sums first! Yet our populist ethos flies repeatedly in the face of this logic. Ironically South African higher tertiary sector is a prime example – and has become a joke on account of its inability to counter populism with the very qualities it is in place to promote and develop - sustainable life values in our youth.

Instead it demonstrates a lack of capacity to grasp the most basic of societal and economic realities as it cowers in the face of intimidation, thuggery and the brutishness of youthful agents provocateurs. Our tertiary education institutions show an astonishing inability to connect the most rudimentary of dots and communicate the key issues to their constituents – the students themselves. Leadership is absent and century old institutions are emasculated through a destructive and nihilistic program of intimidation for its own sake.

In the past week a report has emerged quantifying the implications of two politically driven concessions by government and university authorities during 2015. They were the waiving of - or a dramatic reduction in – fees as promised by government, and acceding to demands to make support staff to campuses permanent employees of the universities.

The latter was heralded as a “victory for students and workers” amidst much misguided jubilation.

Both concessions were made under intense political pressure and in the midst of student unrest - and both are absurd. It seems that at last the (very logical) conclusion has been reached that some universities would be unlikely to survive longer than a few weeks if those promises are kept. The choices are stark.

Either one or a combination of these scenarios must unfold if our universities are to survive at all:

• Fees have to be reinstated and increased, or

• Universities have to scale down by reducing student and staff numbers commensurate with a withdrawal of academic offerings in line with their available financial resources.

As a footnote, it is worth observing that the recently instated university support staff – previously hired by outside contractors in conditions of relative job security – will inevitably have to be dismissed and outside contractors reinstated in order to accommodate these steps. There is no other way to balance the books.

Interestingly, the fleecing of unsuspecting contributors in pursuit of questionable causes (such as the taxpayer in the previous example) is nothing novel. In fact it goes to the heart of how the ANC operates. Instead of requiring the taxpayer to cough up, more devious methods are sometimes found.

Consider the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) – which administers the pension fund for civil servants.

In the case of the” Independent” Newspaper Group, state pension contributors have unwittingly come to the party in a shady deal between Iqbal Survé – the flamboyant (and to some, notorious) chief executive of the Sekunjalo group – and government sponsored public fund administrators.

How it works is very simple.

Enormous wealth has been advanced to the Independent Newspaper Group, already staggering under plummeting newspaper circulations in an effort to sway skeptical readers to new ANC insights. Such loan capital was advanced on a sweetheart deal basis by the state pension fund while the man at the top of “Independent” Newspapers – who promotes himself as a “social entrepreneur” – exuberantly awaits further government sponsored largesse.

In return for this he directs his publications to tow the ANC line and follow a pro government editorial script. And the newspaper circulations continue to tumble - as one must expect in an environment of growing online news access. (One can scarcely imagine what might happen should state pension funds make too many more such investments! )

Repayment of the Independent Newspaper Group loans to the PIC is looking distinctly dodgy according to financial commentators; some even suggest that it might not happen. For a fuller account of the issues, as penned by Allan Greenblo of BizNews, go to http://www.fin24.com/BizNews/greenblo-dont-pick-on-pica-sitting-duck-for-state-capture-if-not-already-20160708

Conclusion

Whether government and tertiary institutions are being bullied by students that feign an inability to add and subtract, or government and public funding bodies are hoodwinked by charlatans on the make, the outcomes are very similar – and so too are the causes.

The ultimate cause in both instances is the absence of an ethic of custodianship on the part of those entrusted with public institutions and funds. So in our first example, government and vice chancellors duck their responsibilities and will seek ultimately to shift the onus onto taxpayers, whilst in the latter the ANC promotes party interests at cost to the citizenry. The ultimate cause of these is an absence of leadership, intuition and moral compass - opening the way for dysfunctional and partisan political agendas to thrive and reducing society to its lowest common denominator.

How long that can go on is not certain – but it is not infinite, and numerous implosion points and cracks are starting to show.

Although we are unlikely to see the “Independent” Newspaper Group survive the next 10 years, my concern is – will any of our universities?

Keep your eyes open for more cracks.

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