“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.”