A team appointed by President Jacob Zuma to look into the #FeesMustFall campaign is recommending that government double its spending to help deliver “the opportunity to pursue higher education and training” to more South Africans‚ which the panel feels is a constitutional right.
“As a matter of comparison with state funding spent by other countries in the developed and developing world South Africa’s expenditure on higher education as a percentage of GDP (±7.1%) ranks low.
The percentage shouldbe at least doubled to enable higher education institutions to fulfill their mandate.”
This recommendation is contained in an interim report by the Heher Commission‚ which was made public on Wednesday afternoon.
The report notes: “While it is not yet possible to arrive at a firm conclusion‚ certain areas can be identified that are either common cause or‚ at least‚ favoured by a clear majority of participants”.
Other areas of agreement include an acceptance that “the opportunity to pursue higher education and training is a constitutional right” and that state funding should be in the form of loans – that need to be repaid.
“Although the state has‚ since 1994‚ progressively made such education accessible and available‚ principally through subsidies and NSFAS funding‚ too many deserving candidates are being excluded by the lack of financial means.
The state should without delay recognide and implement an obligation to fully fund the very poor (less than annual family income of R122‚000) and the ‘missing middle’ (less than R600‚000 annual family income) as well as recognising that there may be persons who fall outside the upper limit who should be assisted those who can afford to pay for such education should be required to do so without financial assistance from the state until (free education…) can realistically be extended to all‚” the report states.
“Because higher education and training produces substantial long-term benefits for both the state and a successful student‚ persons who enjoy fee-free higher education should be treated as loan recipients in respect of which a reasonable obligation to repay in full or in part arises when a certain level of income is earned by the erstwhile student.”
Only a minority felt that the state is the principal beneficiary of the fruits of higher education and training‚ and that the successful student should not be burdened with any obligation to repay.
“An important influence in favour of the obligation to repay was the perceived need to render the funding process self-sustaining as fully and as quickly as possible‚” the report states.
The South African Revenue Service should enforce repayment‚ it is proposed.
“Ideally the loan obligation should be collected and enforced through the income tax authorities and not left to
NSFAS‚ which has proved inefficient and ineffective in this regard‚” the commission’s report states.
The Heher Commission also states that schools must be improved to enable would-be tertiary students.
“There is little to be achieved by making access to higher education more readily available unless systemic and other deficiencies in the basic education system are simultaneously addressed.
This also applies to the universities in relation to tightening the entrance criteria‚ reducing the staff:student ratios and providing greater subsidies for the improvement of infrastructure to accommodate the larger student population that may be generated by free access.
Most important are meaningful steps to improve the graduation rates of both universities and colleges which are unacceptable and indeed‚ disastrously low.”
Ways in which these improvements may be achieved will be investigated further.