Why no government response with release of Fees Commission report? - universities‚ students ask

Education. Image: 123RF Stock Photo
Education. Image: 123RF Stock Photo

 Student leaders and universities are suspicious about why President Jacob Zuma delayed the release of the Fees Commission’s report on the feasibility of fee-free higher education.

Zuma said he will make an announcement on the report — that was finally released on Monday — once the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Higher Education Funding has processed the report and concluded their work.

The report recommended that students “accept the common sense and inevitability of paying for what they receive‚ if and when they can afford to do so would be politic and responsible and very much in favour of future generations“.

The report also recommended that students at TVET (technical and vocational education and training) colleges receive free education while university students get government-backed Income Contingent Loans (ICL) loans that students start repaying at a specific income level. ICL loans will be made through commercial banks and purchased or backed by the government.

It is recommended that ICL Loans should replace the National Student Financial Aid System (NSFAS) and repayments be recouped by SARS through income tax.

The report also recommended the government increase its block funding to at least 1% of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and that registration and application fees be scrapped entirely.

The report found there is a shortage of suitable student accommodation and recommends the government develop an affordable plan to develop more accommodation.

The Fees Commission was established in January 2016 to investigate the feasibility of fee-free education following widespread student protests under the “Fees Must Fall” banner. It was chaired by Justice Jonathan Heher and its report was finalised in August this year.

South African Union of Students (SAUS) president Avela Mjajubana said it is insulting that Zuma released the report without the government’s plan.

“This is just a provocation to students and a part of the delaying tactics employed by our government.”

Mjajubana said they are disappointed by the report’s recommendations because they do not want loans from “corrupt banks“.

“Government must force the private sector to come on board.”

Universities South Africa (USAf) President Professor Ahmed Bawa said he is stunned the report was released in the middle of exams and is disappointed the government’s response was not included.

He added that the timing makes it difficult for universities to plan for next year.

“There is a lot of instability and this delay just fuels the uncertainty and instability.”

Lukhanyo Vangqa‚ Pan Africanist Student Movement of Azania (PASMA) member at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT)‚ believes the release of the report is “rushed and very irrational“.

“We cannot enter into 2018 where‚ even in a democracy right now‚ students are robbed [of] the access to tertiary education because they do not have the financial capacity.”

He said they reject the report and consider it a “get-rich-quick scheme” for banks by increasing their market share for students loans.

“The Heher commissioners had preconceived ideas of how education should continue to be commodified and funded‚ those ideas did not change‚ the commission was therefore a farce as no amount of engagement failed to move the commissioners.”

Vangqa remains resolute that South Africa can afford and sustain free education.

“Fees have not fallen but fees must fall and fees will fall by peaceful means if possible [or] by any other means necessary.”
University of the Free State (UFS) Vice-Chancellor Professor Francis Petersen agrees free higher education is impossible in the current economic climate.

He supported the recommendation that TVET colleges be fully funded.

“South Africa needs the type of skills that should come out of TVET colleges‚ but the type of capacity from staff that is in the TVET college sector as well the proper infrastructure and the image in the public about TVET colleges needs to change considerably.”

Peterson also supports the commission’s recommendation of an ICL loans system for students who want to access higher education.

“I think it’s a good model but it will probably work if government provides guarantee for the repayment of loans. Whether government will provide that guarantee is another question.”

He is not concerned about the report itself‚ but how government will respond to it.

“That in itself creates uncertainty in the system … I think it creates the opportunity for students to form their own interpretation of how government would respond.”

President of the University of Cape Town’s Student Representative Council (SRC) Karabo Khakhau is worried about where the money is going to come from and if it will cover all students including the poor and the so-called missing middle.

Khakhau believes the government is not giving universities enough money to operate.

“We cannot enter into 2018 where‚ even in a democracy right now‚ students are robbed [of] the access to tertiary education because they do not have the financial capacity.”

Wits SRC president Orediretse Masebe said they are still studying the report‚ but that they expected “nothing credible” from the report.

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