Access to free and affordable tertiary education continues to be a hot button issue in SA, 27 years after democracy.

In this edition of Business Day Spotlight, we talk about the feasibility of free education in SA, given the strain on state finances as the country grapples to recover from the devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Host Mudiwa Gavaza is joined by Dr Oscar van Heerden, director of Kelello Consulting, a firm that has been operating in the education space for the last two decades, to discuss the issues.

Join the discussion:

Students took to the streets of Johannesburg on Monday to continue their protests about fees as 26 universities across SA braced for a national shutdown. This comes as the SA Students Congress (Sasco) called for a shutdown of universities following a meeting with the ANC’s top six.

Both sides agreed in principle that universities should not exclude students who owe historical debt from registering for the 2021 academic year. The debt owed to the 26 institutions by students is about R10bn.

Business Day Spotlight host Mudiwa Gavaza. Picture: DOROTHY KGOSI.
Business Day Spotlight host Mudiwa Gavaza. Picture: DOROTHY KGOSI.

The discussion begins by examining whether or not free education is simply a fantasy or an actual possibility for the country.

Van Heerden, not shy to voice an unpopular opinion, says free education might not be the best way to spend scarce national resources. “Nothing is for free” he says, explaining that the cost burden has to fall on someone, in this case, the taxpayers

The researcher highlights that of every 100 students that start off in SA’s education system, only 12 ever make it to tertiary level. National resources would be better spent increasing those proportions by focusing more on early childhood development, which would have a positive effect on the economy overall in the long term

Van Heerden, together with Nicky Roberts, another director at Kelello Consulting, contributed the book “We are No Longer at Ease: The Struggle for #FeesMustFall” by Busani Ngcaweni and Wandile Ngcaweni.

While students in SA are fighting for free education, young people in the US are facing a different type of of crisis, that of student debt. That particular crisis has seen many questioning the need for tertiary education, especially getting a degree

Van Heerden says not everyone necessarily needs to get a degree, which is why the government had done much to revive the TVET system as a way to increase vocational learning

The discussion focuses on the viability of free education in SA, the state of pubic finances, the effects of Covid-19 on the economy, and the value of getting a tertiary education.

Van Heerden also talks about the effect of Covid-19 on social spending, which in turn affects the state’s ability to provide free university education.

For more episodes, click here.

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 Business Day Spotlight is a MultimediaLIVE production.

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