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Five baby steps universities can take towards free education

The 2016 edition of Fees Must Fall has highlighted the split between those who believe that South Africa has the money to fund free education and those who do not. Speaking at the Fees Commission in Centurion on 13 October, Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande said free education is impossible because dololo money in the Treasury.

We hear you. Alternatively, the Daily Vox has brainstormed some baby steps universities can take towards realising free education, without depending entirely on government.

1. Vice chancellors could be paid less

Surprisingly, most vice chancellors in South Africa earn an annual salary greater than that of the country’s number one, Jacob Zuma.

According to Wits’ annual report for 2014, vice chancellor Professor Adam Habib earned a basic salary of R2.4-million, with R809, 000 in employment benefits, and R152, 000 towards other allowances for a total of R3.353-million.

The University of South Africa’s (Unisa’s) Professor Mandla Makhanya earned R4.2-million and the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ’s) Professor Ihron Rensburg earned an annual salary of R3.7-million for the year 2015.

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In contrast, President Jacob Zuma earned a salary of just under R2.9-million for the same year.

Effectively, students believe that ordinary public servants should not earn more than South Africa’s top public servant.

Some VCs gave up a percentage of their salary owing to the fees debacle in the country. Notably, Max Price of the University of Cape Town (UCT) took a 10% pay cut – but he still earns a whopping R2.6-million per annum.

But Professor Makhanya is doing something to address this.

2. Take notes from Unisa

This year, Unisa’s vice-chancellor, along with his registrar, seven vice principals, five executive deans and deputy executive deans will contribute R10 million toward Unisa’s bursary fund.

At Unisa, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) paid for 13, 667 students’ tuition but there was not enough money to fund at least 8, 392 applicants, who qualified for NSFAS funding in the second semester. These funds served as a top up to the existent R75.1-million which has funded 4, 555 students this year.

Makhanya says the demand for NSFAS is growing faster than the amount of students it is able to sustain.

Even last year, senior management donated R148, 040 into the bursary fund while other staff donated R59, 956. Makhanya says he will also be making appeals to the lower management for donations.

Additionally, for the first time, Unisa absolved students of almost R60-million of bad debt due to their inability to pay fees. This prevents the obstruction of students from graduating if they cannot afford to pay their outstanding fees.

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Now that’s encouraging.

3. Withdraw (or at least significantly reduce) private security on university campuses

We’ve been saying that we need to get rid of private security. Militarisation, victimisation and intimidation does not come cheap. And universities have been paying through their teeth for private security on campuses.

In February, UCT’s Chair of the Special Executive Task Team, Professor Francis Petersen said that the university had been spending R2-million per month on additional security since the #RhodesMustFall protests in March last year.

In May, University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) spokesperson Shirona Patel said Wits had also spent at least R2-million per month on private security since #FeesMustFall began in October last year.

Last month, UJ announced that it had spent up to R15-million on private security on its four campuses since the #FeesMustFall protests began last October.

These are just three of the many universities that have deployed private security on campus in the wake of the Fees Must Fall protests.

Now here’s an idea. Imagine if all the money used on private security could be pumped into a fund for free education.

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4. #TextbookTaxMustFall

Admittedly, this one cannot rely solely on efforts by universities. This calls for intervention by the South African Revenue Services.

The cost of textbooks are undoubtedly part of the tertiary funding crisis that contributes to the #FeesMustFall moment, which is mainly over fees, inadequate bursary schemes and limited, often substandard residences.

Lobbyists have been calling for a zero percent tax on books but the Treasury remains unmoved.

In 2004, then-finance minister Trevor Manuel rejected a petition signed by 10, 000 people for government to stop collecting Value Added Tax (VAT) on textbooks. Phumza Macanda, Treasury spokesperson at the time, said a more pertinent solution would be to foster rising incomes and to make the economy more competitive.

But adding textbooks to the zero-rated goods list could increase the amount of money available to be spent on academic books, reducing buying costs for both universities and students.

Mpuka Radinku, executive director of the Publishers Association of South Africa, said the organisation also supported the call for government to zero-rate VAT on academic books.

In South Africa, universities pay 14% VAT when they purchase academic books for their libraries, yet in some parts of the world, academic books are zero rated or have a reduced tax.

For example in the UK, there is a zero percent tax on textbooks. A quarter of the countries in Latin America apply a 0% VAT rate to printed books, and a further half of Latin America applies a VAT or Goods and Services Tax exemption to a selection of printed books.

5. Eradicate fruitless expenditure at universities

The University of Zululand (Unizulu) spent a whopping R24-million in cash on properties – some just empty plots of land – between last year’s Fees Must Fall protests and this year’s.

Part of the #FeesMustFall student revolt at Unizulu is an outcry over limited and often inadequate student housing.

But Unizulu dished out its funds on nine luxury homes for its executives on the exclusive Zini River Estate in Mtunzini on KZN’s north coast, a 20-minute drive from the main university campus. Unizulu furnished the homes with beds, lounge suites, plasma televisions and state of the art sound systems.

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Some of the executive were even involved in the planning phase and allowed to add their choice of a swimming pool or sauna. According to Noseweek, the excess cost will be R35-million.

The properties were purchased in the wake of the university’s failure to pay for an outsourced whiteboard programme and while the university had yet to allocate outstanding funding to needy students.

At Unizulu, the lowest paid executives pocket around R1.3-million and the highest paid – vice chancellor Xoliswa Mtose – earns up to R2.9m per annum.

That’s not all. Mtose received a hefty R478, 000 performance bonus in December last year, even though there was no approved policy to support it.

It seems wasteful expenditure is not only confined to government.

6. And a bonus one, just for Wits: Put a (higher) entrance fee on the Engineering Breakfast

Because the FOMO is strong.

Featured image by Ra’eesa Pather

About Shaazia Ebrahim

Shaazia Ebrahim
Shaazia is into social justice and philosophy. When she isn't reading, she enjoys yoga, tea and dismantling stereotypes about women who wear lipstick.

2 comments

  1. I applaud your attempt but I’m sorry to say that the issue is so much bigger than this.
    You need to understand that the ‘leaders’ of the Fallists (and I am not referring to the legitimate peaceful student protest leaders who actually wish to negotiate) have another agenda (the Dlameni’s, Mlandu’s, et al).
    Even if every one of your suggestions was implemented immediately, they would not stop.
    It is not about fees anymore, it’s about power through anarchy and by the manipulation of the ‘useful innocents’ who inadvertently serve their cause.
    This has nothing to do with fees anymore. In fact it is just Fascism.

  2. Honestly the best way to move forward would to bit by bit move universities online and automate it’s functions. I feel the only subjects that truly need brick and mortar institutions are the hard sciences and medical (and even there you could start implementing V.R. environments for most of curriculum)

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