Why SA isn't ready for free education - TechCentral

Why SA isn’t ready for free education


Free education in South Africa is a goal worth pursuing, especially for students who are poor and want access to tertiary institutions and those who correctly see it as a right and developmental imperative for the country. Germany has attained it.

The huge challenge is to make the slogan of “free education” a reality. There is not enough money from any source. And government, as the biggest subsidy provider, is not doing well.

South Africa is lowish in world terms for tertiary funding. A task team established by the country’s ministry of higher education and training to investigate funding in the sector reported that the budget for universities as a percentage of GDP was just 0.75%. The Africa-wide proportion is 0,78% and the global proportion is 0,84%.

For countries that belong to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development — among them Germany, Australia, Finland, Mexico and Turkey — the proportion is 1,21%.

South Africa’s main sources of university funding are fees — which have sparked the current dispute — government subsidies and third-stream endowment and convocation or alumni input.

But all of these sources are under pressure.

Government subsidies are determined by student numbers and the number of accredited articles produced by a university’s academics and researchers.

Since 1994, the number of people enrolling at South Africa’s universities has almost doubled. Historically disadvantaged universities such as the universities of Venda and Fort Hare and Vaal University of Technology were underfunded by the homeland states and apartheid institutions such as the department of coloured affairs . These have since come under the democratic government’s funding ambit.

Student demographics changed, too, with more black South Africans enrolling. Many come from poorer families and simply cannot afford the fees charged by universities.

There are many problems for the government, including the state of the world economy, which ensures that there is not enough money. Yet it needs tertiary graduates for developing the country and filling the many gaps in delivery.

So, pressure on universities becomes pressure on students, and raising fees becomes an easy target. Parents, too, are affected by the world economy and can no longer afford increases or to pay. I know a student who could not afford even the cheapest form of transport to get to the University of Johannesburg so dropped out and became a garage attendant – luckily for him, since jobs are scarce and unemployment rates are so high.

Endowments or investment income barely warrant a mention as a funding source, since they are hardly enough in South Africa to plug the gap.

Third-stream income from endowments is mostly available to long-established institutions like the universities of the Witwatersrand and Cape Town, rather than the newer universities. These more established institutions in urban centres are also able to generate rental income, such as by leasing space to a hotel or a hospital.

There is thus a need to set targets and plan. Yet universities are autonomous from government. The National Development Plan is an aspiration. But unless institutions agree to fall in line, the plan cannot achieve results.

Students need to get off campus and convince society of their needs, though they also need to convince fellow students. This is done through discussion, hard as it may be.

There is not enough money. There is a challenge that needs a discussion of what tertiary education is for and how many graduates we need. Money cannot come from social grants or basic education or health. So, there is a huge challenge for South Africa.The Conversation


  1. Free education, free water, free electricity, free medical, free housing, free food (grants), free medical, leads only to captivity not freedom, for example it leads to free work, that is people who go to work and dont work, which leads to no service delivery which then leads to free service delivery riots. Those who get free education although they go to school, or university, don’t get educated, just compare the quality of education in free schools in general, to the quality of education in paid schools. So-we-to now. Well if there were jobs for most, then most of the trouble would be gone, because even if those who were working were unable to educate themselves, they would ensure that their children went to paid schools, they would live in hope, today there is no hope so we have riots, in the hope of free education, which leads to ……

  2. Where are the facts to back up this opinion piece? Its fine saying it won’t work, or that there is no money, but I could jist as well argue that you should stop breathing as there is no hope left for your life. Politicians can take a decrease in salary for their bad performance, and let more students become financially independant with an education. Education should be a priority above all else (a fact backed stance). Its the only thing that turns people into tax payers, takes them out of poverty, and tax payers is what we need, and you’re arguing against it, but with opinion and no facts. Your privilege is showing.

  3. so free tertiary education yet more and more state schools are being closed! primary education is more important than tertiary, if only South Africa knew how much 1st year university students can’t read or write, maybe they would change their perspective on free tertiary and worry more about the school kids

  4. Tuesday Is Soylent Green Day on

    you can have many free things as you like…until the country’s taxpayers say “enough” and pull the plug…

  5. Tuesday Is Soylent Green Day on

    If you had a glimpse of most theses by postgrads you’d realise that most graduates can’t read or write either.

  6. #FeesMustFall on

    The article makes a lot of unsubstantiated statements not backed by any data whatsoever.

    My simplistic argument would be everyone is asking where the money for Free education will come from but noone asked where the money for the R1 trillion NuclearBuild will come from, so take the R1 trillion & fund free education.

    But on a more serious note, here is where the money for Free Education can come from.

    under-graduate students in South Africa = 800,000
    Cost for 1 student (tuition, accommodation & e.t.c) = R120,000 per annum
    Total cost = R96 billion
    Current government funding = R25-billion
    Shortfall in funding = r71 billion

    Here is where we can raise r71 billion
    1. Reduce the state’s wage bill by 5% = R22-billion
    2. Reduce defence & military spending by 25% = R10-billion
    3. 2% increase in SETA levy paid by companies = R45 billion
    Total raised = $77 billion per year

    Remember we didnt factor these factors which can reduce the cost of funding
    1. Fees paid by international students who will continue paying fees
    2. Not everyone cant afford fees so we can use the income model used by Brazil where the fees a family pays depends on the total income earned by the parents that way only those who cant afford to pay dont pay
    3. Basically increase the funding to NSFAS so that every student who cannot afford to pay fees gets funded.
    4. The fees for accommodation & food could be left in place

  7. Reducing the provinces from 9 to 4 may also help. We cannot afford all these mickey mouse parliaments.

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