The long-awaited report by the South African Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training, released by President Jacob Zuma on Monday, has concluded that it is not feasible for South Africa to abolish fees for higher education. This inquiry was prompted by a student-led protest, entitled #FeesMustFall, which began in 2015 and demonstrates the extent to which we all have a role to play in accountability in education.
While the report did not recommend that fees may not be abolished, there are three other positive outcomes. These include recommending that:
- technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) be made free;
- tertiary students be able to access government-guaranteed loans from commercial banks that must be paid back upon achieving a specific income threshold after graduation; and
- the South African government increase its expenditure on higher education and training to at least one percent of GDP.
The student-led protests #FeesMustFall, were centered around the slogan ‘Being intelligent is not good enough if you are poor’ which for many is an accurate reflection of the lack of accessibility of tertiary education in South Africa. The 2017/8 GEM Report discussed this issue, noting that only 1 in 5 tertiary education students received state-sponsored financial aid in 2014/5. This is concerning, as annual tuition accounts for 20% to 40% of the average annual household income, meaning that higher education was simply unaffordable for many young South Africans.
The GEM Report’s Youth Report, which will be released on 10 December, will further explore the power of student voices for holding governments responsible for equitable and quality education. It features a profile from Dylan Barry, a student at the University of Witwatersrand and a former blogger on this site. Dylan was integral in mobilizing his fellow students to join the #FeesMustFall movement. He will no doubt now be looking to the inter-ministerial committee to see how they reflect the inquiry’s recommendations in their decisions.