“Free education” funding models keeps student’s hopes up

WITS University SRC hosted the “Free education” funding model discussion at the Great Hall, with the Lesedi Education Endowment Fund team and former Wits SRC President and Bath University PhD candidate, Mukovhe Masutha. Presenting their respective funding models, the discussion was the first of a series of talks in response to the lack of political will in solving the higher education funding crisis.

The issue of free higher education is critical, which has prompted an all-inclusive analysis to formulate a workable solution and keep the momentum going. Wits students created a funding model called the Lesedi Education Endowment Fund, which illustrates how students can pay less university fees through a multi-faceted solution with public and private sector involvement.

Tuition fees have heightened and institutions have allocated majority of the burden to students. Therefore the Lesedi model suggests that government to re-establish its 50% contribution to the cost of running a university over a 12 year period. The Endowment Fund says those who can bear the costs should contribute to the running of institutions and tuitions.

Lesedi Education Endowment Fund team member and a Wits Physics student, Dylan Barry said, “We have had significant protests at this point once a year for the last two years, but often during the rest of the year it’s just quiet and there isn’t discussion and momentum is lost. So we are trying to perform a role of ensuring that you keep developing arguments, you keep developing the movement and keep pushing ideas forward all the time.”

“When you are on the streets again you’ve got a better basis on which to negotiate on, on which to discuss and students have a better idea of what is possible and what’s not. The hope is that people who have not engaged with this stuff before will have had the chance to engage with it tonight [May 2],” said Barry.

Another endowment fund team member and a Wits postgraduate science student Alexandra Flusk said, “The huge income disparities in the country which is perhaps further entrenched by neoliberalism, which has impacted the poor negatively. What our model seeks to do, is to say that this is the societal construct in which we live and that societal construct is incredibly demeaning to poor people. You have to prove your poverty to get NSFAS. The government that is currently in power that creates the policies, that speaks through the freedom charter and then the constitution to solve all these issues and doesn’t, that is a matter of political will not what the current societal regime currently stands as.”

“We are saying that tomorrow you can implement free education if there was political will and these are the ways you can do it and the need to address the issues as quickly as they are coming up – a consequence of what happened in 1994. Our democracy and constitution is not what we thought it would be,” said Flusk.

Masutha’s model seeks to redefine the “poor and working class students” to R350 000 per annum and provide fully subsidized free university education for the “poor and working class students” in the form of grants and not loans.

“We don’t question the anatomy of university fees. Universities have become commodified. Radical economic transformation is not about putting more money in the pockets of the poor but making their expenses obsolete,” said Masutha.

During the Q&A session Masutha criticised the Ednowment Fund team about their model stating that no private or public organisation funds an institution and just observes from the side-lines.  He touched on how universities are funded and that the endowment team should read up on it. “If you question how you arrive here [university], it will help you come up with a sober solution,” said Masutha, critiquing his fellow presenters.

Sociology personal professor, David Dickinson said that this was a good initiative organized primarily by the SRC.

“There have been some victories by students but we haven’t gotten there yet and there is a lot of talking. What the SRC president [Mkhari] told us is that we need to as a community, as students and as staff and as management be talking about how we get to this goal of free education,” said Dickinson. “I thought the two presentations were interesting. There was a lot of overlap but I think they are helping to flesh out some of the complexities for the audience. This is not polony and cheese, this isn’t straightforward. Hope more students come in the future.”

Third-year BA student Warren Makoga said, “The presentation was about whether or not the two models represent solutions and to a certain extent they could. We always run a risk of the implementation process and whether or not it’s going to be viable. For me we need to do certain structural changes for all of these models to work and that means building state capacity, making sure the government budget is not lost through tenders and the middle man thing and I’m not sure if they were thinking that far when they were coming up with those solutions. Generally it was an okay presentation from the latter speaker [Masutha], the first speakers sometimes, the points they presented, were too vague.”

SRC wants free education for worthy students

The SRC has called for a march to the Department of Higher Education to demand fully subsidised higher education for all financial needy and academically deserving students.

“We have once again realised there is an overwhelming amount of students who are academically deserving but due to their socio-economic background cannot access the doors of learning,” said SRC president Morris Masutha. “This has to stop and it has to stop today!”

In a widely circulated statement, the SRC said raising tuition fees was “a direct exclusion mechanism used by those who benefit from commercialisation of higher education across the country”.

It pointed out that in 2004 the registration fee at Wits was just over R2000. Today students pay R7300. Masutha said the demand for financial aid (NFSAS) at Wits this year is R230-million, but with government only allocating R160-million to the university, thousands of students are left unable to access learning.

Masutha said Minister Blade Nzimande needed to be reminded of the reason he was appointed. “We deployed Nzimande to go and implement our mandate as young people, and no student from 2012 onwards should be denied access to higher education due to their financial background,” he said.

Masutha is also chairperson of the South African Students Congress (Sasco) at Wits and has been a long-standing advocate in the fight for fully subsidised higher education.

“We need to stand up as students across political, religious and racial lines and fight against this commercialisation of higher education where students are treated like clients. We need to remind our government what its priority is.

“If we don’t stand up as an academic community, no one will. If we do not stand up for one another, no one will stand up for us.”

“We need to convince society that education is the only investment that can solve all the social ills facing of country.

LETTER TO THE ED: We are fighting for free higher education; the biggest salary increase our mothers will ever receive!

by Mukovhe Masutha

ACADEMIC ACHIEVER: Morris Masutha was honoured recently for scoring two distinctions. Photo: Courtesy Morris Masutha

Mukovhe Masutha is the 2011 Wits SRC President. Photo: Wits Vuvuzela. 

If you take my mother’s annual salary and multiply it by three years, she still wouldn’t afford to pay for a single year of study at the University of the Witwatersrand.

She is one of many cleaning mothers across my country who leave home at 4:30am and return from work around 6pm. Over the years, their salaries have been nothing but stagnant when compared to the ever increasing cost of food, transport, electricity and other basic necessities.

This has been my mother’s routine for the past 26 years and sadly, this routine has conditioned her to genuinely believe that what she receives as a cleaner is what is due to her, nothing more nothing less.

If this revolving door of poverty and marginalization is not militantly disrupted today, the majority of South African sons and daughters will follow in my mother’s footsteps of normalized pain and conscious submission to a humiliating system.

This is the lens through which one must look at the revolutionary anti-fee increment movement led by the Students Representative Council (SRC) at the University of the Witwatersrand and other campuses across the country.

It is for this reason that I argue that free higher education will be the biggest salary increment our mothers will ever receive in their lifetime.

Restoring the dignity of our communities and safeguarding our future and that of our country is an ideal that we must beg no one for.

The current wave of protest must mark a declaration of war to all those participating in the commodification of higher education as a product in the market.

The time for rhetoric has come to an end, we must take it from here.

Our movement as students must transcend the walls of individual campuses and move with the necessary speed towards the National Treasury and the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET).

Our employees at both departments must pass legislation that introduces a higher education tax on all monopoly capital industries, foreign direct investments and the wealthy as determined by their household income.

All funds collected from the higher education tax must fund the immediate widening of participation in higher education through the realization of free higher education by January 2016, massive investment in new higher education infrastructure, limiting universities’ institutional autonomy (particularly their ability to determine the cost of academic programmes) and the adoption of a “People’s University” approach to further decolonize the higher education landscape in South Africa.

Our call must be guided by the principle of redistributive justice and not another misguided rainbow nation approach. We must not fall into the trap of calling for free higher education for all.

Our call must be for free higher education for the poor and the working class as determined by household income. We cannot afford to subsidize the wealthy; they must continue to pay.

Every revolution will be confronted by reactionaries who seek to protect and maintain the status quo. In this regard we must ignore co-opted anti-blacks like Mondli Makhanya, editor of some newspaper, and his masters who find it reasonable to refer to our peaceful protests as hooliganism.

When the University of Cape Town says our protest action is disrupting the academic project, we must remind Max Price that the continued commodification of higher education has disrupted our academic project for decades. The University of Cape Town’s response to students’ protests is as irrational as the judge who granted them a court order to stop students from demanding their constitutional right to education.

We must not be easily discouraged. We must remember that our struggle today is a logical continuation of the struggle of the class of 1976. If they could confront the apartheid regime’s live ammunition head on, surely we should be able to keep Mondli Makhanya, Max Price, police, judges and their masters in their lane.

If South Africans agree that access to higher education and training is a strategic tool to break the cycle of poverty and to undo the socio-economic legacy of apartheid, then we must also agree that prohibiting some youth from accessing the same higher education and training is an act of reinforcing the cycle of poverty and safeguarding the socio-economic legacy of the apartheid regime.

If we claim to agree with President Nelson Mandela when he said education is the most powerful tool we can use to change an unjust world, then we must also agree that prohibiting some youth from accessing education is an act of keeping an unjust world the same. It is that simple.

If the ladder of educational opportunity rises high at the doors of some youth and scarcely rises at the doors of others, while at the same time formal education is made a prerequisite to occupational and social advance, then education may become the means, not of eliminating race and class distinctions, but of deepening and solidifying them.

These words by President Truman in 1947 summarize how the higher education in South Africa continues to reproduce and reinforce social inequality while sabotaging the project of nation building.

Finally, I would like to commend student leaders at the University of the Witwatersrand for literally bringing university managers down to earth. I remember sitting on the 11th floor negotiating with Wits Management on why fees should not increase.

A mere 10 minutes into the negotiations, a very arrogant university manager would stand up and arrogantly say “we are clearly disagreeing, let’s vote”. She knew that the whole council, predominately made up of old conservative right wingers, would vote against the students’ lonely voice as represented by myself.

Thank you for turning the tables in your numbers and may the struggle continue!


*Mukovhe Masutha is the chairperson of Thusanani Foundation and former President of the Students Representative Council at the University of the Witwatersrand, currently pursuing a PhD in Higher Education Management at the University of Bath (UK).