Tuesday, November 17, 2015

It Is Red, It Must Be a Communist! - On Free Education

In March 2012 the Minister of Higher Education, Dr Blade Nzimande, who in his spare time masquerade as a communist, set up a working group to “investigate, and advise on, the feasibility of making university education fee-free for the poor in South Africa.”

In October of the same year, the Working Group presented him with the report which in a nutshell said that it is possible to provide free education to poor student within the current education framework. The report went on to outline where and how the resources can be obtained and used effectively in order to achieve such an outcome.

Suffice to say that the report was kept a secret until one member of the Working Group let the cat out of the bag to the effect that free education to the poor in this country is feasible and there is a report that the whiskey communist forgot all about once they had submitted. And Alas! Some capitalist and counter revolutionary within his office leaked the report to the media.

The Minister in carrying out his revolutionary duties in setting up the Working Group, tasked it with the following terms of reference:
  •  determine the actual cost of introducing fee-free university education for poor people in South Africa; in other words, what would it cost South Africa to offer fee-free university education to cover people classified as poor;

  •  suggest a working definition of poor people in South Africa, if necessary suggesting different categories and how all can be provided fee-free university education; and consideration should be given to the ‘missing middle’, where some families do not earn enough to be considered for loans by financial institutions but are not classified as poor, thus cannot access services directed at those classified as poor;

  •  consider existing policy provision and broadly consult documentation of other task teams/working groups in the Department which deal or dealt with related fields;

  •  examine various models and options of providing fee-free higher education for poor people used elsewhere in the world and make recommendations to the Minister;

  •  contemplate all possible implications and consequences of providing fee-free university education for the poor.

In order to fully comprehend and to move from a common understanding the Working Group interpreted the following terms as follows:
  •   'University education' in this specific context is understood to refer to undergraduate university education, including degrees (both 3- and 4-year), diplomas and certificates. Postgraduate education is therefore excluded.

  •   'Fees' to be considered 'free' are taken to include not only tuition fees but the full cost of study necessary for success at university, including: registration and tuition fees; meals and accommodation; books; and travel.

  •   'The poor' are defined, minimally, as those households earning less than the lowest SARS tax bracket (or R54 200 per annum, in 2010 prices). Other categories of the poor are also discussed and considered in this report.

·    In terms of these working definitions, therefore, this report focuses on the feasibility of providing free full-cost-of-study undergraduate university education for children from households not paying any income tax.

As part of executing their task the Working Group looked at a myriad of documentation including Public Policy on education since the ushering of the new dispensation in 1994, the 1997 White Paper on Education, the NSFAS roles and responsibilities with particular emphasis on the 2010 NSFAS Ministerial Review.

The Working Group also looked at the 2007 resolution of the 52nd National Conference of the ANC on education which stated that government must “progressively introduce free higher education for the poor until undergraduate level”. The ANC, at its Lekgotla in July, 2011, further resolved that “extending the provision of free education to cover students in other years of study must be examined fully”, and “covering the full cost of study for poor student in scarce skills areas, in all the years of study must be effected, but guarding against the downgrading of social sciences programmes provision”.  

Having had regard to all these and other documents, the Working Group came up with the following recommendations:

Recommendation 1:

Free full cost of study undergraduate university education for the poor in South Africa
should be introduced using the current NSFAS structure and procedures as a basis, but refining these over time, and simultaneously ensuring that corporate governance, fund management procedures and loan recovery practices at NSFAS are completely overhauled and rendered above reproach.

Recommendation 2:

Funding for free university education for the poor should be derived at least in part from a proportion of the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) funds set aside by both the private and the public sectors for skills development, and earmarked to provide for sustainable NSFAS-administered income-contingent loans to poor students in identified scarce-skills sectors.

Recommendation 3:

Such SETA funds which are already being used for bursaries, short course skills programmes and internships for poor students, along with portions of corporate social responsibility funds, should be centralised and properly coordinated under a single, NSFAS umbrella.

Recommendation 4:

New sources of funding, not discounting the national budget, large financial institutions and international donors, must be found so as to render free university education for the poor both affordable and effective.

Recommendation 5:

Those initially and primarily eligible for free university education, on the basis of
NSFAS income-contingent loans, should be learners holding National Senior
Certificates who are admitted into a university and come from households earning less than the lowest SARS tax bracket, meaning that they will be required to make no household contribution.

Recommendation 6:

In addition, learners holding National Senior Certificates who are admitted into a university and come from households earning between R54 200 and
R271 000 (in 2010 prices) should be eligible for free university education in a similar manner, but should be required to make some household contribution.

Recommendation 7:

As and when additional funding can be sourced or provided, additional categories of needy children may be progressively included.

Recommendation 8:

Eligibility should be determined on the basis of duly refined and properly administered NSFAS means tests.

Recommendation 9:

The policy dialogue model as utilised in this report should be considered as the starting point for developing a fully-fledged costing model both for free university education for the poor and, ultimately, for a comprehensive student financial aid and academic support system which takes into account adequate housing, proper nutrition, cultural inclusion, and enhanced awareness through career and vocational guidance at school level.

Recommendation 10:

In order to ensure that increased financial access on the part of the poor is converted into academic success at university, additional funds shall have to be made available to cover costs related to providing:

·         improved and better funded academic support, tutorial support and residential or living-learning support mechanisms;

·         affordable technological solutions (such as in-class audio and visual feeds, on-line learning or distance education); and

·         sufficient additional numbers of academic and administrative staff to ensure adequate class sizes at universities and improved quality of contact time between staff and students.

Recommendation 11:

Funding should be premised on the principle both that fees must be realistic, and that the cost of university study must be proportionate to a student's ability to pay.
Students must contribute where they can (even if minimally), and where possible should be afforded the option to do so either financially, on the basis of future income, and/or through community or public service (which should target areas of scarce skills).

Recommendation 12:

Current levels of government funding of public higher education institutions must be maintained or even increased, so as to preserve the basis on which institutions will be required to redouble their efforts to translate financial access into academic success.

In Conclusion

These are practical recommendations that should have been progressively implemented at the beginning of 2013. For the Minister to sit on the report and in 2015 proclaim that they do not know where they will get the money from is scandalous to say the least and laughable at best.

What is required here is for our capitalist communist Minister to offer free education within his capitalist outlook.

Free education is possible!! Free education is desirable!!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Ship Ahoy - When the message is not in the music.

The O'jays' Ship Ahoy is one of the best and socially conscious albums in their discography. The genius behind this album are composers and producers, Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff. They have written a lot of gems for groups like Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Billy Paul of "Me and Mrs Jones" fame, Aretha Franklin and the others but it is through the O'Jays that they found their artistic expression. It is through the O'Jays that the sound of Philadelphia came to be celebrated.

Ship Ahoy was released in 1973 as a concept album with the main theme being slavery and its aftereffects on the American society. Gamble and Huff were probably influenced by the hugely successful Marvin Gaye's "What's Going on", a concept album about hatred, suffering, injustice and the Vietnam war. It is said that the album was the first R&B concept album and sold more than 2 million copies.

Ship Ahoy is also a concept album with its main theme being slavery with a particular emphasis on the Atlantic slave trade. The album is also critical about the effects of capitalism on society as can be heard on their hit song "For the Love of Money". Their other hit song "The air I breath" laments the commodification social relations and "Don't call me brother" is about two timing people and backstabbers who betray socially conscious brothers in their mission for social justice.

After Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On", "Ship Ahoy" is arguably one of the most important albums about social justice to come out of the US. However unlike Marvin Gaye, the songs were laid on the silver platter for them by the founders, composers and producers at Philadelphia International Records. Marvin Gaye had to fight Barry Gordy's Motown Records for the right to have his music recorded. Marvin Gaye's album became a huge success because he could clearly articulate the concept behind his music.

With the O'Jays, that articulation was absent as they considered themselves firstly R&B singers and entertainers and as a result the message behind the music was lost. It is ironic that "For the love of Money" has been used as a theme song for Donald Trump's TV programme "The Apprentice". This shows how watered down the message in their music has been.

The central theme around this immensely gifted singers' music is a lack of grasp of the consciousness of their music. There are songs like "The Year 2000", "Give people what they want", "Put your Hands together" and the lesser known "Message in the music", highly conscious songs that didn't make it past people's consciousness. One would have expected such songs to become standards and rallying cries for the civil rights movements and the oppressed of  the world.

Imagine if a Nina Simone or Marvin Gaye were given these songs, they would have been at the heart of the civil rights movement struggle. Brilliant as the O'Jays are, they have done a disservice to the brilliance and radicalism of Leon Huff and Kenneth Gamble. Imagine how immortal they would have been had they followed up such revolutionary gems with a bit of radicalism and consciousness on their part.

Ship Ahoy, the album, is such a haunting and painful album that chronicles slavery and its aftereffects in America. The song itself is hauntingly beautiful, with the crack of the whip in the background and the sound of the ocean articulating the poignancy in the song.

Ship Ahoy is one of the most beautifully crafted albums that ranks up there with Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" and Nina Simone's radical songs. It is a pity that Eddie Levert, Walter Williams and William Powell failed to inject the radicalism and consciousness that was required to bring to the fore the message in the music. It is a pity that most of these beautiful gems are considered pop songs and R&B standards that are nice to dance to. 

It is also remarkable that the composers of the music did not make a concerted effort to articulate the message behind their lyrics. But then again it is said that the painter is not meant to interpret his work. Pity!