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WATCH: The country is being run like a Spaza shop – Cosatu

Nov 14 2017 21:30
Moeshfieka Botha

Cape Town - President Jacob Zuma released the report of the Commission into the Feasibility of Fee-Free Higher Education and Training in South Africa, also known as the Heher Commission, on Monday.  

Shortly after the report was released, Fin24 presenter Moeshfieka Botha spoke to the Congress of South African Trade Unions' parliamentary deputy coordinator, Matthew Parks, about the commission's report, fee-free education, and the current political situation.

Zuma established the commission in January 2016 in the wake of protests on university campuses across South Africa. It was tasked with investigating the feasibility of "making higher education and training fee-free in South Africa".

READ: SA doesn't have money for free higher education - Heher Commission

The commission concluded that SA did not have enough money to provide "totally free higher education and training to all who are unable to finance their own education, let alone to all students, whether in need or not".

It did made a number of recommendations, including that all tertiary students in SA be funded via a "cost-sharing model" of government guaranteed loans sourced from commercial banks, that the state builds more student accommodation, and that application and registration fees to be scrapped across the board.

                            Find a transcript of the conversation below, lightly edited for clarity.  

Moeshfieka Botha 

The Heher Commission has found that there is currently no capacity for the state to provide free tertiary education to all students. Matthew, what is Cosatu's take on this report by the Heher Commission?

Matthew Parks 

Such a conclusion would not surprise us.

Government's finances are extremely in distress. There is a R50bn revenue shortfall this year. The deficit is increasing at very worrying levels, so it’s not a surprise that there is not enough money currently.

We do think that if government engaged with society, we could find the money within the state budget, but that would mean certain sacrifices by the state.

It might mean certain cuts, certain revenue increases, but for us the starting point is – lets first cut back on the wasteful expenditure and corruption, which is the easiest way to start freeing up money for this.

We agree in principle to having free and affordable tertiary education.

Moeshfieka Botha 

What system, in terms of free education seems a viable system for Cosatu?

Matthew Parks 

I think you need a bit of a hybrid system. It can’t just be free for everybody, especially those who can afford it. That would simply be unaffordable at current tax levels.

But we do agree working class and middle class families need either free education or affordable education. Currently it’s just become out of control. A UCT degree for one year will be R60 000. Stellenbosch will be R40 / R50 000…and so on. That’s simply unaffordable.

If you add residence fees, you are looking at R100 000 per annum for a child to study at university. So only the rich can afford that – not even the middle class.

So it needs to be sort of a hybrid model, where we say OK, the poor can be for free. Others can pay a certain proportion in regards to how much their family earns and so on.

The current threshold is about R125 000 – which excludes 90% of society. Even the proposed measure of the commission of R350 000 still excludes the majority of working class households.

We need to get a bit of a decent model. But you can only do that if you have everyone engaging – government, universities, students, unions etc ...

Moeshfieka Botha 

And that will take time….

Matthew Parks 

You can’t do it in a dark corner, in a dark alley somewhere, a few weeks before the ANC congress, 2 months before the universities re-open in February – and you haven’t engaged government alone.

So far according to the Sunday Times, only the President, his DG and allegedly his daughter's supposed boyfriend have copies of the thing.

Moeshfieka Botha 

What do you make of that?

Matthew Parks 

It’s bizarre. It’s insane to say the least. How do you get confidence in it if the Ministers of Higher Education – both the last one and the current one, haven’t seen it?

The DG of Higher Education hasn’t seen it. According the the Sunday Times, even the Minister of Finance hasn’t seen it.

Moeshfieka Botha 

What do you think about the timing of President Jacob Zuma’s support of fee-free tertiary education?

Matthew Parks 

It’s bizarre and it raises all sorts of questions around politics. Is he doing it just because it’s the December congress, is he trying to get a show of support?

Also, he has delayed this thing. The report was given to him in August, we are now in November. So what was the point of the 3 month delay? Why weren’t the 2 Ministers of Higher Education given copies of it? Why wasn’t Treasury engaged around it?

But even for us, we didn’t think that we needed to have the commission in the first place.

We all know what the problem is – UNAFFORDABLE EDUCATION.

We all know you need a calculator to come to different models. What’s  the right amount that is free? What should be paid, what revenue should be increased or cut?

So you’ve literally wasted 2 years having a commission – then you waste another few months having the President sit on it.

Really for us, this thing should have been dealt with long ago.

Get a few actuarial scientists, tax experts, budget experts and look at the numbers.

Moeshfieka Botha 

The rand has not reacted well to President Zuma’s support of fee-free for all tertiary education, albeit for a year. What do you think the ratings agencies are going to make of this?

Matthew Parks 

Moody’s is already very clear - they going to downgrade us next week, which means investments from overseas is going to start flowing out. I think the figures that are being talked about – R100/ R200bn - will leave immediately. 

I don’t think international ratings agencies care whether education is free or not - they care about whether you can afford it, will your budget balance?

And if Gigaba was talking about a R50bn shortfall in revenue - now you going to add another R40bn to that….

Moeshfieka Botha 

Yes, that does seem strange in terms of the MTBPS that Minister Gigaba gave not too long ago

Matthew Parks 

It doesn’t seem to fit. And I think that is what they are going to hit us on – we don’t seem to know what we are doing. We operating government like a spaza shop!

We just blowing the money. There’s no sense of a plan, of a team... it’s just everything goes!

And to just give you a kind of a sense of how clueless government has become, today Gigaba was quoted as saying he supports the 4%/4.5% salary hike for politicians.

The very same chaps who say that the public service wage bill is out of control, we need to reduce etc etc… yet, they are ready to eat some more.

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