Free study possible, say activists
Students are adamant that free education is feasible as university protests enter their third day, despite the Treasury saying those who can afford to should pay fees. Yesterday saw tense stand-offs between students and police and university security at Wits University, with 31 students arrested. Rocks flew on the steps of the university’s Great Hall, resulting in smashed windows. Classes were also disrupted at Tshwane University of Technology and the University of the Free State. In Pietermaritzburg, students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal marched to the provincial legislature. Meanwhile, University of South Africa (Unisa) students have vowed to join the nofees protest, which some analysts have called unrealistic.
Some student leaders have referred to the fee-free university education report commissioned by Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande in March 2012 as justification for their call. The report of the working group chaired by Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University vice-chancellor Derrick Swartz concluded that free higher education for the poor was feasible but would require significant additional funding of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme and the university system. Its preliminary calculations of the cost of introducing free university education is between R100-million and R1-billion, based on 2013 prices and 160 000 students. Free higher education activist and B-Tech Fire Technology student at Tshwane University of Technology, Elias Modiba, said it was insulting for the government to plead poverty when R700-billion had been lost to corruption in 20 years. “It was not because of a natural disaster that this money was lost. We have a report, from a panel of experts, which says free education is feasible. The problem is not money, it is lack of political will ,” he said. Tshwane University of Technology’s Pretoria West campus SRC president Banele Malefe said big corporates and mining companies should be taxed to fund free education. But Ronen Aires, chief executive of Student Village, a student development group, said free higher education could not happen overnight as it would require a major shift in the country’s economic structure.