Free varsity 'a waste'

25 September 2015 - 02:33 By Katharine Child

Leading economists believe that increasing enrolment in preschools in sub-Saharan Africa is a better use of resources than giving free education at high school and university. The Danish think tank The Copenhagen Consensus made its findings public as world leaders descend on New York to decide on UN targets for the reduction of poverty, hunger, violence and inequality by 2030.The Danish economists were trying to find the most effective use of the investments necessary to meet the UN targets.Their analysis suggests that increasing preschool enrolment in sub-Saharan Africa from the present 18% to 59% would return $33 for every dollar spent.World leaders meet today at the UN to ratify global development goals expected to cost $2.5-trillion between next year and 2030.The head of The Copenhagen Consensus group, Bjorn Lomborg, contends that it is time to give up the idea of free education for all - a UN target since 1960 - because it is not financially feasible.The evidence is that children who attend preschool tend to earn more as adults, Lomborg said."It appears to give them a boost in both social skills and emotional development [but this is] not easy to quantify."But on Tuesday Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande again suggested that higher education be free for poor students."[The government is] committed to free higher education for the poor who are deserving to get it."In government schools, tuition and meals are free for disadvantaged children from Grade 1 but younger children do not benefit.Save the Children SA spokesman Abongile Sipondo said the latest national household expenditure survey by Statistics SA suggests that most children of four or younger receive no services whatsoever."In March 2012, 836000 children were attending 19500 registered early childhood development centres nationwide, and more than 40% of them were not receiving any subsidy," she said."Evidence suggests that many children are acquiring debilitating learning deficits early on and that this is the cause of under-performance in later years."

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