#FeesMustFall: Cue the commission of inquiry
As student demonstrations continue in 2016, President Jacob Zuma on Thursday announced a commission of inquiry into the funding of higher education. The question is, will it end the protests? By GREG NICOLSON
The commission of inquiry will take eight months to investigate the feasibility of fee-free higher education and training in South Africa in regards to current legislation and financial sustainability.
The commission comes after Zuma met with vice chancellors, chairs of university councils, and student representative council (SRC) leaders last October to discuss fee increases and higher education funding. He said then that the government would lead a process looking into higher education funding.
The commission will be chaired by former Supreme Court of Appeal Justice Jonathan Arthur Heher, who retired in 2013. He will be assisted by Advocate Gregory Ally and attorney Leah Thabisile Khumalo. The presidency said Ally was admitted to the bar in 1990. Khumalo is a practicing attorney, founder and director of Mngoma-Mlaba Khuloa Inc.
The commission will have eight months to complete its work and will then have two months two submit its report to the president. It’s key task will be to inquire into, make findings and recommendations on “the feasibility of making higher education and training (higher education) fee-free in South Africa”. It will take into account the Constitution, current education laws, findings of previous task teams, policies, reports and guidelines.
The terms of reference also require the commission to look at “the multiple facets of financial sustainability, analysing and assessing the role of government together with its agencies, students, institutions, business sector and employers in funding higher education and training” and “the institutional independence and autonomy which should occur vis a vis the financial funding model”.
University students forced the issue of free education onto the agenda last year as Fees Must Fall protests closed campuses across the country. Through an agreement with tertiary institutions, Zuma announced a freeze on fee increases for 2016, costing the state R2.3 billion. Protests, however, have already begun this year at campuses in Gauteng as students demand an end to financial exclusion and free education at tertiary institutions.
Students with the Fees Must Fall movement from University of Johannesburg and University of Witwatersrand on Wednesday said they were committed to achieving the immediate implementation of free education. Calling on the public to join their cause, they said they wanted the ANC to honour its own commitments to free education. “We don’t want it in three years. We don’t want the government to sit in commissions,” said Wits student and Fees Must Fall member Busisiwe Seabe.
Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande on Thursday was holding a meeting with SRC leaders from across the country. Further protests at campuses will likely interrupt the academic year and could be embarrassing for the government ahead of the local government elections. While the Fees Must Fall groups on Wednesday clearly rejected the prospect of a commission, the president’s announcement might lead to reduced support for closing down campuses.
Last year Nzimande said the government plans to implement free education for the poor, but it lacks the funds. A 2012 study commissioned by the minister found free education for the poor is feasible and should be implemented, but will require additional funding.
“It is simply too expensive – not just economically but also socially and politically – to maintain a higher education status quo characterised by low participation, high drop out, and a system of financial aid which, notwithstanding its many positive features, has tended to favour advantaged institutions rather than disadvantaged individuals,” said the Report of the Working Group on Free Education for the Poor. Daily Maverick
Photo: Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa attends a ‘Millenium Development Goals’ meeting during the general debate of the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly at United Nations headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 25 September 2013. EPA/PETER FOLEY.