Why We Fight for Free Education
Free Quality Higher Education is a right not a privilege. Many countries around the world have introduced fees over the past decade or so and in doing so have re -asserted that it is privilege. The ANC despite its fine conference resolutions has seen the government since the late 1990s decrease in real terms funding to universities and other higher institutions of learning.
The failure of government to invest in education has been matched by that of big business investing in training and development of the workforce. On both scores South Africa’s compares badly to most middle-income countries. Let’s not be fooled we have the tax base and accumulated wealth to fund education and training of development.
It does not take an economist to understand this is simply a case of getting our priorities right. Over the past two years we have seen government introducing austerity budgets that have seen lower spending. They have been committed to taxing the rich less and clawing back on the state expenditure.
Company tax that penalize those companies that don’t invest the trillions they have accumulated in the banks and individual tax on the wealthy would quickly provide the money required to pay for a decent education from the ‘cradle to the grave’. This would involve a massive roll out of preschool education, bringing the poorest public schools up to the standard of the richest private schools, and properly funded university education.
Under the pressure of decreasing government contributions, universities have cut the budgets to the libraries, retrenched university support staff, increased class sizes, placed more pressure on academics to publish and opened up a plethora of centre’s funded by donors, big business and wealthy individuals.
This has led most distressingly to students to a steady increase in fees, debt and reliance on their parents, whose salaries have to stretch further for the increasing number of unemployed family members. It reached boiling point.
Education is one the levers that helps build equality, but perhaps more importantly it supposed to foster critical independent thinking. A key site of such training is the humanities faculties, but industry and government want to see less spend there, and more spend in the STEM subjects, Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. They have no interest in turning out critical minds, their only concern is the economy.
A genuinely free education demands properly stocked libraries that provide a diverse offering of what the world has to offer, with an emphasis on what Africa knowledge brings to the table. In the best universities students co determine with academics what is taught, students can determine what they read.
A free education not only demands free thinking, it demands free time to take courses that are not necessarily part of your degree. It demands most importantly students are adequately supported to be able to buy books, eat properly, clothe and transport themselves and yes even have a little over for entertainment.
A free education serves the interests of the public, opening its doors for literacy, numeracy, African languages, computer training. In short students together with academics, support staff must determine what our universities look like and how they function so they act as role models for wider society and by doing so provide an open door to the general public
The complete eradication of outsourcing is fundamental to the nature of a public university. We cannot countenance the dehumanizing and anti-black nature of outsourcing and causal work.
2016 will see in all likelihood see major battles over registration fees, financial exclusions, the scrapping of student debt. They cannot be sustained if we do not have a strong student movement that is inclusive of all those willing to fight for equality in education and within the university. This demands unity with all university workers, progressive academics, parents, trade unions and others who are willing to take a stand.
Forward to 1% of GDP to be spent on education.