Call for free education is legitimate: Higher Education

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Pretoria - Higher Education and Training Deputy Minister Mduduzi Manana says the demand for free education is legitimate and justified.

The Deputy Minister was responding to a memorandum from students. This after students marched to the precincts of Parliament and presented a memorandum to him on 29 October.

 “Your demand for free education is a noble and legitimate one and a positive act to affect transformation in the higher education domain. Transformation is a dynamic and continuous process and unlikely to be exacted in a single swoop.

“We walk the entire journey of fundamental change with you. Your protests have highlighted the urgent need for the rapid acceleration of the progressive realisation of free higher education for poor students at undergraduate level,” said the Deputy Minister on Monday.

Deputy Minister Manana said the demand for a no fee increment for 2016 objectively demonstrates that the exorbitant cost of education is unbearable for the poor and working class in the light of the muted economic situation.

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) since its inception has spent R50 billion, benefiting 1.5 million students. Between 2004 and 2015, university funding has significantly improved from R9.879 billion to R30.338 billion. 

“Government has committed to free higher education for the poor undergraduate level and its phasing in requires urgent consideration of funding mechanisms. The Minister of Finance has, during the delivery of the Medium Term Expenditure Framework statement, asserted that he had requested advice on [the] Wealth Tax,” said Deputy Minister Manana.

He said government will further consider radical proposals including Corporate Education Tax, increasing the skills levy and general reprioritisation in government in order to fund this priority.

Insourcing varsity workers

On the issue of the outsourcing of services, the University of Cape Town (UCT) management and organised labour have concluded an agreement in respect of insourcing of auxiliary services including cleaning services, residences and university buildings, catering in student residences and student and staff transport services.

“The insourcing will be phased in upon the expiration of the prevalent services with external service providers.

“The issues raised regarding outsourcing of services are legitimate aspirations that seek to assert the betterment of service conditions of workers. Your petition is taken seriously,” said the Deputy Minister.

The Deputy Minister said the memorandum will be circulated to all institutions of higher learning for consideration.

Structures of governance in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are currently involved in negotiations with relevant stakeholders to deal with, among others, the outsourcing of services. 

Minister Blade Nzimande has appointed a Task Team to scrutinize the matter of outsourcing in HEIs.

Treatment of students during protests

On the issue of police brutality, Deputy Minister Manana said the matter has been referred to the Acting Commissioner of Police, General KJ Phahlane.

He said that the Constitution provides for the right to campaign for a political cause.

“Equally importantly, students as everyone have a right, peacefully and unarmed, to assemble, demonstrate, picket and present petitions. Thus, we cannot criminalise lawful and legitimate protests by students.

“The department does not have the authority to withdraw criminal charges against any students, as we did not open any charges in relation thereto,” he said.

Once charges have been preferred, it is the prosecuting authority that has the legal authority to deal with the matter.

“We note that the University of Cape Town (UCT) has withdrawn charges. We urge students to respect the law and the Constitution of the Republic when engaging in protests to avert confrontation with the security agencies and for police to exercise restraint when engaging with peaceful protesters,” said Deputy Minister Manana.

He further urged students to return to class and begin preparations for the final academic examinations while institutions “are thrashing out these matters”. –

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