No such thing as free education – commission

There is no such thing as free education – someone has to pay‚ be it the state‚ firms‚ households or donors.

This was the crux of the submission to the fees commission by the Financial and Fiscal Commission (FFC)‚ an independent constitutional advisory body‚ in Pretoria yesterday.

The FFC delegation‚ led by its commissioner‚ Professor Daniel Plaatjies‚ said returns on education had both social and private beneficiaries‚ so there had always been a private and a social component.

FFC research head Ramos Mabugu said the cost of last year’s “no fee” increase ranged between R2.6-billion and R4.2-billion‚ depending on which methodology was used.

He said approaches varied depending on whether the focus was on inputs‚ services or outcomes, and whether the determination was made by the university or national departments.

“One fairly objective approach is to begin with the weights from the consumer price index‚ where cost of education accounts for 2.95% of consumer spending (basic and secondary education account for 1.72% of the CPI weight and tertiary education for 1.23% of the weight)‚” he said.

So the cost of university fees (excluding contributions made by way of bursaries) would be close to R40billion a year, he said. “Given that the student protests were sparked by a mere 10% increase last year, an additional R4-billion needs to be covered.

“Fee free university education‚ given current figures‚ would require the injection of an additional R40-billion from the public purse to the tertiary education sector‚” he said.

Mabugu said it was worth noting that the number of students enrolled was far fewer than those eligible to enrol.

“If we assume student numbers double – even though the system cannot handle twice as many – the cost approaches R80-billion‚ and a deficit increasing nearly 2% of GDP each year,” he said. According to the FFC‚ over this year’s medium term expenditure framework‚ the real annual average growth of the Department of Higher Education and Training was 4.1% and that, as at 2017-18‚ the university education programme consumed the largest share of the higher education and training budget at R41.9-billion.

Between 2015-16 and 2016-17, Mabugu said, the department’s allocation to the university education programme grew significantly by 12.9%.

President Jacob Zuma established the commission in January last year following #FeesMustFall protests.

The commission is investigating the feasibility of introducing free education at universities.

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