South Africa has enough money to offer free higher education for all but the country has failed to match its vision with resources and instead prioritised corruption.
This is the crux of chairperson of National Planning Commission and leading academic Professor Malegapuru Makgoba’s submission to the fees commission sitting in Irene‚ Tshwane‚ on Monday.
He did not mince his words in criticism of the current administration’s priorities‚ saying government put education as the apex priority but has failed to match this with appropriate budget.
“We have a vision but not followed by resources. We have a wish of a great country but do not allocate appropriate resources... you cannot set a vision and not allow resources of the country to be reshaped accordingly‚” he said.
Makgoba said at the heart of the country’s problems was tinkering with the old budgeting system that do not reflect the country’s vision.
“We are using the old system‚ that is what we are doing. Budget has not changed since 1964. We are comfortable with the system so we are tinkering with it‚” he said.
To illustrate South Africa’s priority and resources mismatch‚ Makgoba said South Africa was by far richer than Cuba but (SA) spent 0.71% of its GDP on higher education compared to Cuba’s 4.47%.
“It is about choices rather than about the economy. We are richer than Cuba but look what they are spending on education and are able to offer free higher education‚” he said.
The academic said SA politicians visited Cuba to buy its cigars but would not bother asking Fidel Castro how he did it.
Makgoba‚ who was in 2013 recognised as “a pioneer in higher education transformation“‚ by being awarded the Order of Mapungubwe in Silver‚ said SA would rather spent billions on frigates in an arms deal than pay for free higher education.
“I think we can afford free education for all. The money is there in our country but we are not prioritising. Some priorities will suffer but those are the choices we have to make‚” he said.
Makgoba said bankrupt as it were‚ Greece provides free higher education.
He said budget was an instrument to realise the country’s objectives‚ saying money should follow the ideas of a country.
He said finance minister Pravin Gordhan had pointed out last month that if SA cut corruption by 20%‚ this would release R40 billion for free higher education.
He said this meant if corruption was cut by 100%‚ then the country had and extra R160-billion.
“It seems like they have prioritised corruption. They can pay for it but not education... we tell [students] there is no money but the [finance] minister says there is money. Who must they believe?“
Makgoba said the ruling ANC adopted a free higher education resolution but when students say “bring it‚ they say well we are still going to think about it. What are we saying?“
President Jacob Zuma appointed the commission in January following widespread protests by university students last year against the high costs of university fees.
The commission‚ headed by Judge Jonathan Heher‚ is inquiring into and will make recommendations on the feasibility of a fee-free higher education and training in South Africa.
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