We seriously have to look into how we are going to fund this basic need called education and not affect our national Budget negatively, says the writer. Picture: Reuters/Mike Hutchings
“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today,” said Malcolm X.

The issue of free education has been on the back foot, delaying us from preparing for the future. The land issue is taking centre stage at the moment, especially through the rhetoric of the governing party and the opposition. But Malcolm X reminds us again that if we want a brighter future, we need to educate, especially young people.

Sadly, and even more frustrating, is the talk about granting free education to the citizen that doesn’t look at the practicalities and the impact it will have on taxpayers who are suffering at the hands of a non-growing economy.

Again, the EFF, that is championing this call (but has sidelined it in its mainstream rhetoric for now) is merely making enough noise to be heard by the dull and ignorant who don’t see that this isn’t a black and white discourse it has a lot of grey areas.

In our quest for free higher education, for instance, where is the money going to come from? We seriously have to look into how we are going to fund this basic need called education and not affect our national Budget negatively.

The truth is: education is not “free”. Someone has to pay for it, and that is normally the taxpayers. With our 15% VAT, we won’t fund quality higher education.

Some of the European countries have successfully adopted policies and laws that bind them to provide quality higher education for free.

All the Scandinavian countries, namely, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden are providing higher education free of charge for their own citizens. But there is a catch to this.

I spent more than three weeks in Finland, and I got to visit their ministry of education and I understand better how they manage to provide “free” education for their citizens.

Tax rates applicable to residents of Finland: income tax on capital income (i.e. investment income) is 30% paid to the State. The tax rate on capital income exceeding 30 000 is 34%.

Tax on earned income paid to the local town or city (16% to 23%), paid to the church (1% to 2%) is paid to the state according to a progressive scale.

In addition, there is a social security charge called “the health insurance contribution of the insured” paid by individuals (0% to 2%) in Finland.

The working class is funding the free education through taxation that is double what we pay in South Africa.

In Finland - they just celebrated 100 years of independence - they truly benefit from the high tax money they pay. They have state-of-the-art universities and first class healthcare.

We cannot say the same of South Africa (a developing third world country) where mismanagement of funds is the norm, playing rhetorics by political parties is the way of getting attention and there is hardly a solid, well-researched plan to execute ideas and address the needs of our citizens.

We need to look into who is eligible for free education. We cannot pay for everyone. We have to fight the unemployment rate of 38.2% of our young people aged between 16-34.

So, let’s take the knowledge and information we have to truly liberate our people and ensure they make informed decisions.

* Kabelo Chabalala is the founder of the Young Men Movement (YMM), the 2018 Obama Foundation Africa Leader, and the 2018 Finland Correspondent Programme (FCP) participant. Email,[email protected]; Twitter, @KabeloJay; Facebook, Kabelo Chabalala