Tax the rich to fund free higher education

Free higher education is a rallying cry for students.

Free higher education is a rallying cry for students.

Published Jun 10, 2022


Dugan Brown

Cape Town - Post-Apartheid South African higher education witnessed an unprecedented nationwide student protest.

Central to the student protests was a call for a free-fee decolonised and Afro-centric, and inter-sectional higher education.

The #FeesMustFall protests received public condemnation for the destruction of property and arson. Destruction of property and arson de-legitimised the #FeesMustFall in particular to certain quarters that (were) resistant to the transformation of higher education.

Moreover, the university’s management and the State subtly connived and cooperated to quell the #FeesMustFall clarion call, i.e. decolonisation of higher education.

To dissuade students’ clarion call embodied in the #FeesMustFall, economic reasoning and rationality were uncritically brought to the fore to dissuade students from their clarion call of decolonising higher education.

Largely, the economic reasons that were brought to the fore upheld neo-liberalism ethos qua austerity measures.

The proposed austerity measures to fund higher education signified intellectual bankruptcy, a-historicism and apolitical at its best.

South Africa, likewise, with other African states, suffered limited access to higher education due to colonialism, and when, on the eve of liberation, Neo-liberalism and managerialism found expression in higher education, which further denied many young, poor Africans access to higher education.

Moreover, austerity measures, even if they were to be able to fund higher education, was not going to be sufficient to fund higher education.

If the austerity measures were to be adopted as the proponents of Neo-liberalism suggested, it would require a significant budget cut, in particular on the welfare responsible ministries, albeit having to face severe consequences.

For instance, if the taxpayer’s money could be a significant source to fund higher education, as it is suggested, the government would have to cut subsidies provided for parastatals.

Moreover, cutting the state wage bill is another option that the government can utilise to fund higher education, notwithstanding the impact of having either civil servants could possibly lose their jobs or have salary stagnation.

Having civil servants losing their jobs has the possibility of ripple negative effects, with the state having to have more burden of providing welfare services increment and further contribution to unemployment.

Moreover, cutting the South African National Defence Force’s (SANDF) budget would have a severe negative impact as the state defence could be jeopardised, the security of the country and the peace keeping missions the South African government is currently embarking on.

The proposed austerity measures demonstrate that South Africa is deeply entrenched in Neo-liberalism and that our state is managing the affairs of the neoliberalists..

If the state would, therefore, utilise taxpayers to fund higher education, it would be best that the state increases the tax brackets of the rich and wealthy because, by and large, they are the people benefiting the most from the country’s rich mineral resources and wealth.

Increasing taxation from the rich and wealthy would have significant turnover and fundamental positive implication of state ability to fund higher education.

In lieu, in 2014, Sars and the Treasury reported that there are about 4200 people with an annual income worth over R5 million.

Furthermore, according to the Cape Gemini 2014 World Health Report, South Africa has up to 48000 high net worth individuals worth more than R7 million.

Increment of tax to these people would have a huge positive impact in funding higher education.

However, tax increments from the rich and wealthy would never be suggested because the state is managing their affairs at the expense of the poor and the poor students.

Free, decolonised, and afro-centric education in South Africa is possible if the government can source the money from the private sector and through tax increments from the wealthy.

The private sector and the wealthy undoubtedly continue to exploit the poor, and it is high time they give back to the poor for the betterment of all South Africans.

Brown is a BSocSc student at UCT

Cape Times

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