Central to the South African higher education funding crisis is a university system that is grossly underfunded, small in size and increasingly sold like a commodity in the market place, with the financial burden increasingly transferred to individual students over the past two decades. Whilst the negative consequences of this higher education system have been felt across the social spectrum, they have particularly paralyzed the educational and social mobility of youth from low income households and communities, permanently condemning millions into the NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training) cycle of poverty, inequality and unemployment”
We further submit that the hierarchical , unreasonably meritocratic, commodified nature of the current university funding model continues to enable universities to establish close correspondence between unequal social stratification at access and unequal social stratification at completion level , without explicitly acknowledging and in many cases denying the unequal nature of pathways to access and success in South African Higher Education.
This way universities facilitate the occurrence of socially unequal patterns of educational attainment which in turn reproduce structures of socio-economic domination and inequality, under the hoax of academic neutrality and institutional autonomy.
When a country goes to war, no war is ever financially feasible , but you go to war regardless, in order to protect your national interests and future stability. Given the amount of literal casualties that South Africa continues to suffer due to the current higher education model, we insist that the feasibility of funding free higher education cannot be subjected to normal and frankly frivolous budget modelling that national treasury is currently obsessed with.
For a new inclusive higher education funding model to realise our policy commitments, higher education must be viewed and declared a public and cultural good whose equitable accessibility is a necessary precondition for our country’s future socio-political stability and economic security. Poor and working class student must be redefined to refer to students coming from households with an annual income of R300 000 as opposed to the current R122 000. And it is this group of poor and working class students that must be eligible for a fully subsidised full cost of study (Tuition , Accomodation , Meals, Transport and all study material) in the form of grants and not loans. This will not only bring much needed relief to well over 80% of South African households, but will mark a significantly bold step in our attempt to break from the socio-economic legacy of apartheid and colonialism.
Throw away the concept of “missing middle” as it is submissive to an outdated definition of who is poor and working class and further hand over low income households to loan sharks . Students who have been described as “missing middle” are in actual fact neither middle class in sociol-economic terms nor anywhere near the actual middle of South African household income spectrum.
In a country with a flat household income profile, Gini coefficient of 0.7%, it is grossly inaccurate to refer to a daughter of individual parents with an annual income of R61 000 or R 5 200 PM as anything that even resembles middle class. In determining one’s class position , in an economy similar to ours, it is unjust and grossly inaccurate to evaluate the value one’s household income in isolation from the cost of living (in this case, cost of studying).
Students who have been branded “missing middle” are neither “missing” nor in the “middle” of anything, both in pure numbers and in socio-economic terms.
We therefore reject Sizwe Nxasana’s proposed “Ikusasa Student Financial Aid Programme” as nothing more than a bad attempt at rebranding the limitations of NSFAS with a privately run scheme littered with private sector , particularly banking sector interests, that actually continues on the neoliberal, meritocratic and commodified trajectory of the current model.
Informed by the principle of redistributive justice and in pursuit of collective social mobility, we submit that those in the higher income earners and big businesses that derive their profits and their very existence from the wealth of our nation be taxed sufficiently enough to fund the education of poor and working class students.
We note the decision by Wits University’s council to increase 2017 fees by 8%, wish them a blessed festive season and promise to join students who will greet them in January 2017.