Is it Free Education or Fee-Free Education
By Mluleki Dlelanga
On the 16 December the 2017, the President of the Republic of South Africa made a a very crucial pronouncement as it relate to the question of education that" government would be phasing in fully subsidised free higher education and training for academically capable students from poor and working class backgrounds over a five year period" This decision was welcomed by the Progressive Youth Alliance and the South African Youth in general. This decision was further endorsed by the ANC 54th National Conference and further amplified in the January 8 statement , which held that " critical to the expansion of access to economic opportunities is the implementation of a free higher education for students from poor and working class backgrounds whose household income is less than R350,000. This will be implemented by providing full bursaries for tuition and study materials to qualifying South African students at public TVET colleges and universities, and subsidized accommodation or transport capped at specific levels for those who qualify, starting with first time entry students in 2018. For returning existing university NFSAS funded students, in 2018 and going forward, their loans will be converted into full bursaries"
The question of education is a central question to any revolution. The basis of free education is said to be based upon education clause on Freedom Charter as adopted at the Congress of the People, Kliptown, and 26 June 1955 that doors of learning and of culture shall be opened!
All friends and foe quote this clause, let me quote it also "The government shall discover, develop and encourage national talent for the enhancement of our cultural life: All the cultural treasures of mankind shall be open to all, by free exchange of books, ideas and contacts with other lands, the aim of education shall be to teach the youth to love their people and their culture, to honor human brotherhood, liberty and peace. Education shall be free, compulsory, universal and equal for all children. Higher education and technical training shall be opened to all by means of state allowances and scholarships awarded on the basis of merit , adult illiteracy shall be ended by a mass rate education plan , teachers shall have all the rights of other citizens; the color bar in cultural life , in sport ,and in education shall be abolished"
The vision and perspective of Young Communist League of South Africa on higher education
Founded in 1922 as a Marxist-Leninist youth political formation, representing poor working class youth with principles of non-racism, non-sexism, equality and the socialisation of the ownership and control of the means of production. Our vision is the decommodification of education and for higher education is the realisation of free public higher education by 2020, where higher education will be treated as public good, not a privilege. Access and success without students to pay, state pay and private sector pay, transformation and reconfiguration of institutional autonomy, adequate infrastructure and academics and ultimately new and transformed higher education landscape.
Traditional Marxist-Leninist perspective see education system as working in the interests of ruling class elites. We see education system performing three functions for these elites: reproduces class inequality, legitimates class inequality and it works in the interests of capitalist employers.
The evolution of higher education in South Africa.
As the Marxist-Leninist youth organization, we continue to learn and relate to Lenin’s teachings that "To expect class neutrality in a class divided society is as foolish naïve as to expect the capitalist to reduce profit to increase wages", therefore education is not a neutral phenomenon, apartheid regime used education as an instrument of oppression, where black historically disadvantaged institutions versus white historically advantaged institutions. Huge infrastructure backlogs, unequal class sizes and poor quality education for the majority are legacies of apartheid. Those from the poor, rural and working class households continue to face systemic exclusion both academically and financially.
The current higher education system post 1994 is a product of oppression crafted on the basis of class, race and gender discrimination. The production and reproduction of historically advantaged and historically disadvantaged higher education institutions is visibly hence even today we still have University of Zululand and University of Venda. Post 1994 the attempt was made to merge existing institutions to address the imbalances and inequalities of higher education institutions. We should have started the process of building new institutions in 1994 instead of merging existing ones.
In 22 years of democratic breakthrough we have only produced three new institutions of higher learning. The current administration must be commended for realizing the need to build new institutions to address legacies of apartheid and today much progress has been made in ensuring access as such TVET College intake has doubled in the last five years. However, less progress in terms of through output rate and transformation as well as demand for higher education continues to outstrip the supply of higher education and content is dominated by neo-challenges facing the system of higher education
Comrades and South African Youth, allow me for the purpose of this article to briefly state and list the challenges facing the higher education system as follows:
- Commodification and commercialisation of higher education remains the biggest challenge.
- Deserving students from working class backgrounds are denied access because they have not applied.
- Loans from NFSAS have led to highly indebted student population.
- Unemployed graduates fall victim to unpaid loans while some who can afford choose to pay back their loans.
- NFSAS allocation is insufficient and not capable to deliver on government pronouncement.
- No enough classroom space and academics.
- Demand for higher education continues to outstrip the supply of higher education.
- Liberal thinking and research -driven institutions focus very little on local socio-economic issues.
What is to be done to implement free education in our country?
The pronouncement by the President of the Republic of South Africa is welcomed and it’s a huge development and step in the transformation of the system of education in our country. This now requires a more unified, strategic consistency and shared understanding by all role players for the successful implementation of free education in line with the government pronouncement. As we embark on the process of implementation or phasing in free education one recommends the following suggestion that may or may not assist the process depending on tactical considerations to be employed in the process:
- Let’s use international experience on higher education
As the YCLSA, we are an international organization as such our call for free, compulsory and qualitative education is also informed by our international experience that implementation of free education is possible. In Germany, public higher education is free, in Venezuela, public education is free, in the State of Kerala, India, and public higher education is free, in Cuba, public higher education is free and in Sweden, public education is free and these countries implemented free public higher education through a grant system. The question and advice is why not explore the models being implemented in one of these countries to adapt and implement in South Africa.
- Let’s build and prepare for ‘More Spaces and More Places’ in Higher Learning
The Young Communist League of South Africa will be launching its campaign calling for a New Higher Learning Build Programme to be developed and implemented by Institutions of Higher Learning. Our call for a ‘New Build Programme’ for Higher Learning is motivated by the fact that large numbers of deserving students who come from poor households are unable to take advantage of the new funding opportunities made available by the State because there are simply not enough spaces available for them to study in Institutions of Higher Learning.
The current infrastructure development plan is inadequate and short – sighted. It proposes a minimum number of institutions to be built which does not cater for the entire demand brought about by the new regime of subsidized higher education for the poor with an average household income of R350 000. As a result, free higher education can never be truly realized unless the issue of infrastructure development is adequately addressed. The State must devise new expansion plans for higher education while universities and colleges must build more campuses and lecture theatres as a matter of urgency. The University of Johannesburg must build more campuses and more lecture theatres. The University of Cape Town must build more campuses and more student housing facilities. So to must the University of Venda, Walter Sisulu and all other universities.
If the State has committed to increasing University subsidies from 0.68% to 1% of GDP over the next five years then Universities must equally devise new infrastructure build programmes to build adequate student housing, new campuses and lecture theatres over the next five years. Enough to meet the demand of a rising student population.
Today we have 26 public universities and 50 TVET Colleges in South Africa. This is overshadowed by the 627 private colleges and 114 private higher education institutions currently operating in the private higher education landscape. Public higher education is lagging far behind in the bricks and mortar of higher education and the current expansion plans don’t seem to address the imbalances in system.
A two – pronged approach of popularizing TVET Colleges whilst demanding more infrastructure development to ensure the barriers of free higher education are addressed will lead to the absolute realization of free higher education in our lifetime.
- Distinguish between free education and fee-free education in the immediate.
As we distinguish between free education and fee-free education we have to be guided by the wise words of Amilcar Cabral a pragmatist not a dogmatist as he demonstrated it with his insistence on the study of reality ‘Do not confuse the reality you live in with the ideas you have in your head. Your ideas may be good, even excellent, but they will be useless ideas unless they spring from and interweave with the reality you live in. What is necessary is to see into and beyond appearances: to free yourself from the sticky grasp of ‘received opinions’, whether academic or otherwise. Only through a principled study of reality, of the strictly here and now, can a theory of revolutionary change be integrated with its practice to the point where the two become inseparable. This is what he taught."
As the government through the department of higher education and training is phasing in or implementing free education in our country, it’s very important to be mindful and appreciate that education is a critical question for any revolution, higher education qualification is increasingly becoming a prerequisite for employment in the modern day society and higher education must be viewed as an investment to society not a cost.
The call for free education , which by the way is the long standing resolution of the Young Communist league of South Africa, which has been calling and campaigning through its annual Joe Slovo Right to Learn Campaign that Free, Compulsory and Quality Education , an education system that is socialist oriented and ultimately a socialist education system.
The struggle for a free, compulsory and quality education is not simply about funding. The struggle for free, compulsory and quality education is not only about rands and cents. The struggle for free, compulsory and quality education involves the issue of curriculum development and transformation, institutional autonomy and academic freedom, prevailing culture and classroom experience. Funding and access for free Higher Education will mean very little if our institutions produce hardnosed neoliberal robots incapable of understanding society and driving social change.
To us as the young communists at the end we need a socialist education system that is our goal. Ours is a struggle for socialism, free education pronouncement is a noble pronouncement which is relevant as ever before as we view it as a strategic pronouncement for the benefit of our revolution and the class.
To answer the question is it free education or fee-free education, the answer is it’s not yet free education for now. Our analysis is that this is not a free education but a fee-free education. Fee-free education speaks to the component of fees alone. It is about the government subsidizing the cost of fees alone. It does not speaks about curriculum development, infrastructure expansion and transformation. It’s about keeping the capitalist status quo of the demographics of higher education while the government covers the cost of education for the poor.
To us free educations means decommodification of education, free education means transformation of education system and knowledge production, free education means expansion of infrastructure and building of new institutions to increase access and success for all, free education means more university, free education means more TVETS Colleges, means more primary schools, free education means more high schools , free education means more early childhood development centers , free educations means, free education means academic freedom, means curriculum development and transformations.
As the YCLSA, we say yes to the implementation of free education for the working class and no to any delays on the implementation, that’s the bottom line Coz YCLSA SAYS SO!
Cde Mluleki Dlelanga is the YCLSA National Secretary.