Free education – a thorny issue

The ANCYL and the YCL reject the Heher report and agree that tertiary education must be free. PICTURE: THAPELO MOREBUDI.

THE Heher Commission’s report into funding of higher education is set to cast a shadow over discussions for the ANC to adopt free tertiary education as policy at the party’s national elective conference at the weekend.

As more than 4000 voting delegates are set to converge on Nasrec, Johannesburg, for the ANC’s 54th national elective conference, the 748-page commission report found the state had no money to fund the mammoth task to provide free tertiary education to all students. The report is expected to be a thorn in the side of the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) and Young Communist League (YCL) in their push for the ANC to implement fee-free higher education from next year.

ANCYL president Collen Maine insisted yesterday the fees commission report should be thrown out the window, and would have no bearing on discussions among delegates on the matter. “We as an organisation have long rejected that report. We have not sanctioned it and as an organisation we deem it not relevant to the conference,” Maine said.

The ANC’s policy conference earlier this year resolved that free higher education for working class, “missing middle” students and the poor must be implemented from next year – subject to the availability of funds. One of the recommendations made was that higher education be funded through a cost-sharing model of government-guaranteed income-contingency loans sourced from commercial banks.

The debate on the policy proposal comes against the background of the wave of #FeesMustFall protests, which led to student-led countrywide shutdowns of campuses. Maine said there was urgency for the ANC to take decisive steps to ensure it  delivered on the mandate given to it at its 52nd and 53rd conferences, that the ANC government accelerated the implementation of a new financial support model to ensure poor students received funding for higher education.

“The government has always had a way to find money for projects. We expect them to do the same for tertiary education. It must happen. They must do everything possible to make sure it happens. What we want now is the end product.” YCL national chairperson Yershen Pillay said the league rejected the fees commission proposals for funding higher education.

“It has to be a state-led process. Capital can play a part but it cannot determine the terms and conditions. The banking sector can play a role but a role of a junior partner,” he said. Pillay said he expected the alliance proposal of considering a wealth and corporate education tax as a means to fund free higher learning for the poor to gain traction at the conference.

“There’s a lot of capital outflows from the country. The rich continuously send their profits to offshore tax havens. “The conditions that have allowed the rich to get richer must find expression through them having to pay through a wealth tax,” he said. Pillay also vowed that the matter would receive the urgent attention it deserved at the ANC conference. “We need to the ANC to advance and implement free education for the poor. The matter has to be taken seriously, together with the funding modules,” he said.

-Bonolo Selebano