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!!

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