Free Tuition Not Enough

2015-10-26 12:49

With my unflinching support for the students mass action and the Fees Must Fall Movement, it's focal point is university education where at least some 400 thousand black graduates remain unemployed due to a confluence of matters including business investment strike where South African corporate sector has a sit-in on R800 billion cash, hoarding it since 2006, up from an average of R200 billion during the 1990's.

At first, the excuse for not spending was that after Mandela the country will break down and fail. Complete opposite has happened and the cash hoarding persists with changing reasons as to why each season.

The cash hoarding is hurting South Africa and government remains mum on it. America, Japan and South Korea are amongst recent G20 nations to take action against corporate cash hoarding through tough taxation. There remains no clear policy ideas from the ANC in this regard whilst these sophisticated and more liberal markets have seen positive action from the punitive tax laws against cash hoarding. Hoarded cash that is not paid to shareholders in dividends or in re-investment in the economy for growth, is counter free markets as cash by its nature ought to be freely circulating whilst acceptable savings are made. Companies would rather hoard piles of cash then to raise wages or invest in education.

Another reason black graduates remain unemployed is the education mismatch with industry needs or the 21 century economy needs. This is perpetuated by universities who have inferior research and lack understanding of the world. As students became victorious in the freezing of fee increases, no registration fees for poor students, conversion of government student loans to full grants and the yet to be finalized matters being placed on the agenda of the Union Building. This victory is not small but students must be aware that there are still issues of text books, food and accommodation for poorer students too. A basic stipend of R100 per poor student is very important especially for girl students.

What the Higher Education Department must now concern itself with is how to manage the influx to universities that is going to happen as a result of these barriers being lifted. In a country where each January there are student protests, government has a huge task they have no time to fix.

First it is important for universities to encourage and enlarge their online courses, make them accessible and attractive.

Second, students must start learning that university is not the only place for success but artisanal skills are in places better than the course offering universities may give.

Artisanal skills are central to building country and in correcting the skills mismatch which is causing Eskom built projects to use mostly foreign skills in jobs like grade A welding, boiler making etc. These skills pay up to four times a typical human sciences degree from a university may fetch a graduate and the skills are highly regarded with scope for international job placements.

Third, SETAs must now work with even extra urgency and policy must include coverage for unemployed students. There is a need to streamline SETAs work with universities.

Forth, government must introduce punitive tax law on cash hoarding by corporates. Companies must pay shareholder dividends, pay their workers better, invest in country education for their own good.

Fifth, employment equity laws must become even more punitive so the 400 000 unemployed black university graduates are employed.

Free tuition is not enough for the poorest as they usually go without food or pencils, without sanitary towels or bus fare, without accommodation or text books. Students from poor backgrounds do not take up restaurant jobs for extra pocket money but for survival itself.

Students may not realize just how victorious they got, maybe because the ANC agreed with them from the beginning thus the victory came relatively easy to appreciate. Cuba and Germany may be cited as good examples, good as they are, there are inherent dynamics that make our situation very unique. Germany just started rolling out free education, yet it's a $4 trillion GDP country. Cuba, tradeable goods are vastly different to those of South Africa.

Enjoy your victory kids, go back to class triumphant whilst keeping a hawkish eye on the Union Building and Parliament deliberations.

Bongani Mbindwane

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