#Feesmustfall fails in Parliament, as MPs declare state no 'free for all'

18 October 2016 - 18:52 By Babalo Ndenze

The state is not a “free for all” said MPs who argued against free higher education‚ saying on Tuesday that it was not practical‚ too costly and could eat up at least a quarter of the country’s GDP were it to be implemented. They were discussed research findings by the parliamentary budget office‚ which presented a fiscal analysis of the cost of higher education in the country and various funding models to the standing committee on appropriations. The budget office provides independent advice and analysis to parliament on matters related to the budget and other Money Bills. The debate came as the fees commission‚ which is underway in Pretoria‚ took submissions from various stakeholders including Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande.The committee heard how the country is sitting with a 12% recovery rate of student loans offered by NSFAS. For 100% coverage of undergraduate headcount enrolments‚ the government would need more than R250 billion in additional funds to meet the funding needs in the medium term‚ or over the next three years‚ according to the research.The research also found that only 30% of students starting first year graduate within three years‚ while only 56% of students‚ including white students‚ graduate within five years.Ahmed Shaik Emam of the National Freedom Party said the poor graduating rate was part of the problem as well as the quality of basic education.“There is this perception that the state is a cash cow…. you just get and get. Now 12% recovery rate is very low. These graduates are supposed to go and get employed so they can start paying. But I don’t think there’s a will to even do that. [They say] ‘it’s not my money it’s state money’. I don’t personally believe the country is really in a position to be able to provide free education at this point‚” said Shaik Emam.ANC MP Ndabakayise Gcwabaza said he wants to “plead” with people to not base their argument for free education on fraud and corruption. “Fraud and corruption is there. We must deal with it and clean it up. But the immediate challenge is the fees must fall and it means we must find money that is in government. I don’t agree with 100% free for all. Some of us can afford. Some were in previous Model C schools now they say free for all. It is not practical‚” said Gcwabaza.The DA’s Alan Mcloughlin asked for more clarity on the figure of R250 billion saying it was a large figure. “I ask because that’s a quarter of our GDP at the moment‚” said McLoughlin.Doreen Senokoanyane (ANC) said the most important focus should be on transformation and addressing inequality. “On the question of free education‚ I would say no. It wouldn’t be fair. It wouldn’t be promoting any equality. People who can afford to pay have to pay. We know for a fact government is not a profit making institution‚” said Senokoanyane.Mmapula Sekatane from the parliamentary budget office said the past few decades had seen many challenges in the way higher education is financed in many countries in Africa and also internationally.“Governments grappled with the problem of financing rapidly expanding systems of higher education‚ while public expenditure for education has failed to keep up‚ in some cases declined.“There are a number of countries in Africa‚ including Kenya‚ Zambia‚ Mozambique‚ Burkina Faso and Egypt who have a history of free higher education. In all these countries this has not remained the same. It was not sustainable for them and they had to go back to having fees‚” said Sekatane.- TMG Digital/The Times

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