Pretoria - Statistician-General Dr Pali Lehohla says free higher education in South Africa is possible, depending on where the money comes from.
Lehohla was making a submission to the Fees Commission, sitting at the city’s council chambers in Centurion on Monday.
“There’s no free education, but certainly depending on where the money comes from, where your tax goes and who pays, it should be possible,” Lehohla said.
The commission was set up by President Jacob Zuma last January to look into the feasibility of free higher education in South Africa.
This followed mass protests at universities across the country, sparked by the #FeesMustFall campaign which called for tuition-free higher
During his testimony, Lehohla said black South Africans were still living through the legacy of apartheid.
When Hendrik Verwoerd said there was no use in teaching a black child mathematics when he could not use it in practice and established Bantu Education, it crippled black and coloured people. White people and Indians were able to flourish; Indians because of their entrepreneurial excellence which enabled them to take their children to school, he said.
Lehohla said there should be more black people going to university each year, but instead of 200 000 there were only 47 000, and of those who did go, very few succeeded.
This pointed to the high university drop-out rate among black people, he said.
“Blacks do not succeed when they are in university. Back in 1980, blacks were succeeding but now they’re not,” he stated.
He said in the 1980s, for every black person succeeding, there was 1.2 white people succeeding. Now the ratio is one black person to six white people.
Another issue Lehohla raised was that there was not enough space for matriculants to enter university, because there were people still in university who did not graduate.
“Universities would be able to accommodate more students but there are some students who are past their sell-by date and are constipating the system. The system needs to be unblocked.”
He also said the Department of Basic Education was underperforming and not sending as many matriculants to universities as it should.
Overall, the statistician-general said, every child had the right to education, but the sins of the past had created a legacy that had been difficult to break. “What needs to be done is to rescue those who are yet to be born,” Lehohla said.
Submissions to the commission have included those of student organisations, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande and Finance and Education officials.
The commission will sit again tomorrow with Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan due to testify.