South Africa has to make difficult choices, cut corruption and sacrifice some frivolous objectives to fund free higher education, the Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training chaired by Justice Jonathan Arthur Heher heard on Monday.
“South Africa spends about 0.71 percent of its GDP (gross domestic product) on higher education while Cuba spends about 4.47. Now, all of you know that we are much richer than Cuba. Our economy is bigger than Cuba but Cuba also gives free education to all students in higher education. So the priority isn’t money,” Professor Malegapuru Makgoba, deputy chairperson of the National Planning Commission told the inquiry.
“The priority is choice of what you want to do. We have more money than Cuba. This has nothing to do with money. They are spending a large percentage of their GDP on the education of their children. We, being a rich country, are spending 0.71 percent but we are able to do other things which are naughty and exciting rather than investing in the future.”
Makgoba said various leaders in South Africa usually claim that education is the apex priority but such statements have not translated to bigger budgetary allocations towards education.
“In this country we have made a choice that education, health and other things are our priorities. Whatever pie we have … we have not prioritised the budget of our country and made the hard choices. For example, do we need to have bought the frigates that we bought for the arms deal, in a country that is desperately in need of education? That’s where trade-offs should have taken place.”
The Heher commission of inquiry has kicked off the second phase of its public hearings into the feasibility of fee free higher education in South Africa.
The focus of the second phase hearings will be on government policy regarding post school education and training.
The Heher-led commission, announced by President Jacob Zuma in January following last year’s countrywide protests over the escalating costs of higher education, was meant to complete its work in eight months. In July, Zuma extended the deadline for it to complete its work.
“The commission will now complete its work by 30 June 2017. The extension was done on the request of the chairperson of the commission, Justice Heher,” Zuma’s office said in a statement at the time.
“The commission is expected to submit a preliminary report to the president on or before 15 November 2016.”
Last year a number of university campuses were shut down after the #FeesMustFall campaign gained momentum and even saw students storm Parliament. This led Zuma to announce a zero percent fee hike for the 2016 academic year.
Currently, numerous universities across South Africa are in turmoil following Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande’s announcement that for 2017, the tertiary education institutions are now permitted to individually determine the level of fees increase that their institutions require.
Nzimande, however, said government recommends that the fees increments should not go above eight percent.
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