SA cannot afford free education

Durban - South Africa cannot afford free tertiary education, a yet to be published research paper has found.

The paper was presented on Tuesday at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Teaching and Learning Conference by Dr Chimwechiyi Ndoziya, a researcher at the Da Vinci Institute in Johannesburg.

Picture: Shan Pillay. Credit: INDEPENDENT MEDIA

The paper, titled “Ascertaining Funding Higher Education - New Challenges, Opportunities and Prospects” looked at two universities in South Africa, one public, one private, and 40 students and 20 lecturers were interviewed.

Ndoziya said since the global crisis of 2008, universities in Africa had suffered funding shortfalls that were harming the quality output of students.

He said in cases where private higher education institutions had popped up, they were seen as serving private interests, expensive, exclusive and were seen to perpetuate social inequality.

“There are no easy solutions in financing higher education, free higher education is not a viable solution,” he told a plenary session at the conference.

Ndoziya said universities needed to focus on income generating projects to become self-sufficient and explore creative ways to cut the price of fees, such as offering some lectures as a distance learning part-time course.

He said a higher education levy, stringent cost-cutting, private funding and philanthropic support could help reduce the cost of education.

Speaking to the Daily News on the sidelines of the conference, Ndoziya said: “It is not possible to have free education simply because there are a lot of things that compete for the same resources, there is no way that you can have free education.”

Ndoziya identified non-payment of student loans as one of the challenges in the system.

“You need to look at the number of countries in the whole world that have afforded free education; there is not a single one that I can pinpoint in Africa. This goes to show it is not possible.

“Even in Europe where you have the most developed countries, they are still struggling to have free education for all and we are a third world country, so it will not be easy for us, it is extremely difficult,” he said.

Through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) public-funded student loan system, students from poor backgrounds could attain education and plough back into the system to help others, he said.

“We appreciate that there are students that come from very poor backgrounds and who cannot Group mentality drives student protests afford it. But the fact we have student loans available right now, that is a step in the right direction because when you have gone to school through the use of a loan, you have a responsibility to pay it back.

“The only unfortunate development that we have is that most of the students are not paying back,” he said.

Ndoziya said students knew free education was not possible and were victims of group mentality.

“The problem is that on an individual basis they know what is right, but through group psychology, they end up doing wrong things. Don’t rule out there could be a third hand driving them, but we don’t know that for a fact”, he said.

University of KwaZulu-Natal PhD scholar, Samukeli-siwe Mngomezulu, in her thesis titled “Is funding counterproductive to academic success”, spoke to six at-risk students whose success was affected by their socio-economic background.

She found lack of budgeting skills, financial illiteracy and poverty affected students' chances of university success.

In an abstract on her thesis, she wrote: “Sometimes a positive factor such as funding may result in a devastating academic consequence. This means there is a need for higher institutions to design interventions to curb financial illiteracy,” she said.

She noted these students found university to be an “unfamiliar” and “hostile environment”.

Mngomezulu also found that family issues, accommodation, finance issues and poor selection of modules were among some of the problems that led to students failing to complete their degrees.