President Jacob Zuma’s announcement of free education does not mean that South African tertiary students have free education, but it does make education more accessible, according to the CEO of Universities South Africa (USAf) Professor Ahmed Bawa.
USAf is a membership organisation that represents South Africa’s universities. It was formerly known as Higher Education South Africa (HESA).
In a Facebook Live interview with the Daily Vox, Bawa said that the new system that was hastily put in place after Zuma’s announcement do not directly address the question of free education.
“Even though this question does not address the question of free education – it doesn’t, it’s a bursary system – what it does do is that it does make post-school education accessible. Young people from 90% of South African households qualify to be in the sector. From my point of view, it’s a huge step forward and we have no understand that in the context of South Africa’s fiscal constraints and so on, this is something we have to try and make work optimally,” he said.
On 16 December 2017, Zuma suddenly introduced a new higher education funding policy – which lowered the qualifying bar for student loans and also promised an overhaul of the TVET sector. The plan, announced on the eve of the 54th national conference of the African National Congress, caught government officials flat-footed. However, other organisations like the Economic Freedom Fighters welcomed it.
Bawa poured cold water on the idea of immediate free education. He said: “I don’t think it’s the case that free education is possible for all. I think that we are a long way from there but what I do want to say is that if the system does allow 90% of households the opportunity of not worrying about where the money is going to come from if they are admitted to university, or to a college that’s a huge step forward.”
Bawa also commented on the Fees Must Fall and Rhodes Must Fall movements that swept across South African universities since 2015 and said he understands the two as a cry for social justice in the tertiary education sector. “When I think of the Fees Must Fall and the Rhodes Must Fall campaign – and I want to make clear that I don’t speak for them – the way I interpret their demands, their campaigns and so on was a cry for the university system to become much more social justice oriented,” he said.
Watch the full interview below.
Additional reporting by Mihlali Ntsabo