Varsity fees report most welcome

Financial aid
Financial aid

The release of the Heher Commission report on the feasibility of free tertiary education, though belated, is welcome.

It's intriguing why the Presidency held on to it for more than two months instead of releasing it earlier to avoid unhelpful speculation on its recommendations.

The Commission reached the most sensible conclusion possible for a developing country such as ours. We can't afford free university education for all, and students should accept that they should pay for education, if and when they can afford to do so.

There is an unfortunate deep-rooted culture in this country of expecting the state to have a limitless amount of money to pay for everything. People talk more about their rights and not their responsibilities.

No one asks the one key question: who will pay for all the demands that are made on the state?

It's true, our money is being stolen by the billions by those in charge of the state. The argument that if the thieves and their cronies were not bleeding us dry, there would be plenty of money left in the public purse is valid.

But it would not be enough to pay for all the needs such as social grants, health care, education, infrastructure and the salaries of more than a million public servants.

The reality is that our economy cannot support a welfare state. Official unemployment is at about 27%, although the true figure is likely to be above 40%.

We have to cut our coat according to our cloth.

Perhaps the most sensible recommendation the Commission made was the suggestion that education at technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges be free. It is common cause that our country needs technical skills.

It makes sense therefore that we should invest in the area of greatest need.

The added advantage of investing in technical colleges is that they tend to absorb large numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and would make a meaningful change on the lives of the poor.

It is also important that the quality of education at these colleges be improved urgently to attract potential students and prospective employers.

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