There Is No Such Thing As ‘Free Education’‚ Fees Commission Told

There is no such thing as ‘free education’‚ someone has to pay‚ be it state‚ firms‚ households or donors.

This was the crux of the submission to the fees commission by the Financial and Fiscal Commission (FFC)‚ an independent constitutional advisory body‚ in Pretoria on Thursday.

The FFC delegation‚ led by its commissioner‚ Professor Daniel Plaatjies‚ pointed out that returns on education had both social and private beneficiaries‚ therefore there has always been a private and a social component.

Ramos Mabugu‚ FFC’s head of research‚ said the cost for the 2016 ‘no fee’ increase ranged between R2.6 billion and R4.2 billion‚ depending on which methodology was used.

He said approaches vary depending on whether the focus was on inputs‚ services or outcomes and whether the determination was made by the university itself or national departments.

“One fairly objective approach is to begin with the weights from the consumer price index‚ where cost of education accounts for 2.95% of consumer spending (basic and secondary education account for 1.72% of the CPI weight and tertiary education accounts for 1.23% of the weight)‚” he said.

Mabugu said therefore the cost of university fees (excluding contributions made by way of bursaries) would be close to R40 billion a year.

“Given that the student protests were sparked by a mere 10% increase in 2016‚ an additional R4 billion needs to be covered. Fee free university education‚ given current figures‚ would require the injection of an additional R40 billion from the public purse to the tertiary education sector‚” he said.

Mabugu said it was worth noting that the number of students currently enrolled was far fewer than those eligible to enrol‚ having received entry exemption.

“If we assume student numbers double — even though the system cannot currently handle twice as many students — the cost approaches R80 billion‚ and a deficit increasing nearly 2% of GDP each year‚” he said.

According to FFC‚ over the 2017 Medium Term Expenditure Framework‚ the real annual average growth of the higher education and training department was 4.1% and that as at 2017/18‚ the University Education programme consumes the largest share of the higher education and training department’s budget at R41.9 billion.

Mabugu said between 2015/16-2016/17 the department’s allocation to the University Education programme grew significantly by 12.9% in real terms.

The FFC suggested a mixed bag of funding models for access to higher education for the poor‚ including raising Value Added Tax by around 0.6 % (from 14% to 14.6%) and the Personal Income Tax by between 1% — 5%‚ levying a R167-per annum tax on graduates and through donations from the alumni and corporate donors.

President Jacob Zuma established the commission in January last year following months of countrywide violent protests on university campuses under the #FeesMustFall banner. The commission is investigating the feasibility of introducing free education at varsities‚ as demanded by students.

In the interim report‚ handed to Zuma in November last year‚ the commission said there was little to be achieved by making access to higher education more readily accessible unless systemic and other deficiencies in the basic education system are simultaneously addressed. — TMG Digital

Source:  News24

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