Violent protests have erupted at campuses like Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) and University of Kwazulu Natal (UKZN) over issues related to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). Political parties like the EFF suggest that free tertiary education may be the solution.
Should South Africa follow in the footsteps of Germany, Norway, Brazil and Mexico, where free tertiary education is a reality?
We wanted to find out what young people thought and whether free education really is feasible.
If education was free, would there be less protests?
Tsholofelo Modise, Central SRC President at TUT said, “Of course there would be less strikes. If ministers made provisions for the students currently in matric to attend other institutions for free, not just universities, there would be less need to fight with NSFAS for a place at universities.”
Every year the department of Higher Education and Training admits to a shortage of funds for all qualifying students to receive NSFAS. And students who receive NSFAS are likely to default or continue paying off debt for the rest of their lives because of the high unemployment rate.
Dithobe Mosana, Central SRC President of UKZN said, “There is over R50 million in unpaid fees at UKZN. If it were paid by government upfront it can be used from the start of the year for budgeting to build new residences and upgrade infrastructure. Currently, students only pay their registration fees upfront and the university has little money available for budgeting until owing fees are paid.”
What about quality accommodation?
The recent protests at TUT and UKZN around NSFAS were sparked by increased tuition fees and the poor standards of campus accommodation. Their SRC’s report that a lack of communication between student bodies, university management and governmental departments sparked the violence, despite the calls for peaceful protests and boycotts by their respective SRCs.
Richard Mhlongo, SRC President of UKZN Pietermaritzburg campus said, “Protests are the last resort. We start by engaging with management but the only language they understand is protests. Campus accommodation is currently in a bad state.”
Mhlongo adds that demonstrations regarding low standards of accommodation would likely decrease if education were free. “Even though there are challenges, accommodation is a hurdle we can handle. Students just want to obtain their degrees and leave, as long as they can get a free education.”
But it’s not that simple
Economist Mike Schussler says free tertiary education would be wonderful but not realistic.
“I’m not sure if we have the money. We already pay a lot towards education and we don’t get great returns. We already offer subsidies to healthcare, housing and so on, and they’re not free, someone has to pay. We will no longer see the value in education if it were free. What is needed is for the university loan system to be made more efficient.”
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Image by Kyle Kheswa