South Africa wasn’t always a country where anyone was allowed to get a higher education. Even though times have changed since Apartheid, the education system in South Africa is indeed highly marginalized still. Many poor students are unable to pay their schooling fees especially when they continue to sky rocket every year, which has led to annual protests. According to BBC the students protested against the rising fees and “have complained that higher fees may exclude poorer black students” (2015,par.3). In a way, these students are right because while white students in South Africa continue to make more and more money, the black students remain poor and can’t move themselves up the social ladder because of the rising fees of tertiary education in South Africa. Therefore, tertiary education in South Africa should be free to all qualifying students to give all students, regardless of race, a better chance to become helpful citizens of their community instead of low-wage workers.
South African university students have had to face battles with school fees for many years. Attaining a higher education for South Africans has been very difficult for those students who don’t have a lot of money. Thus, it’s “not surprising that each calendar year starts off with student protests demanding free education or lower tuition fees or a cap on tuition fees” (PwC, 2016, par. 2). If every student was given free tertiary education, these protests wouldn’t be going on and students would be able to put their energy to good use in the classrooms instead of protests which can get violent. The protests of 2016 began at “Johannesburg’s University of Wiwatersand before spreading to the University of Cape Town” and more schools (BBC, 2015, par. 18). Not only are the tuition fee hikes very high at 10%-12%, but also these fees appear to be clearly aimed at one goal: keeping poor black students away from receiving a tertiary education. Many of the students have even said “the proposed fee hike amounts to discrimination in a country where the average income of black families is far less than that of white families” (BBC, 2015, par. 17). Therefore, it’s clear that these fee hikes aren’t necessary to help build an equal South Africa but instead are creating upheaval in the country.
Despite the fact that students believe the proposed fee hikes are discriminatory in nature, some critics believe that it’s not right to expect universities should be equalized in a country which used to be highly racist. NIco Cloele states that “perhaps one of the most inappropriate ways to use transformation is as a static concept; for example to demand that universities must reflect, 20 years after apartheid, the demographics of the current population” (Cloele, N, 2016, par. 6). To expect that transformation should occur so quickly doesn’t make sense, especially when that is the only definition of transformation that is being accounted for. Cloele further explains the way in which South Africa has indeed transformed when he says the researchers “Cooper and Subotzky declared that South Africa had experienced a revolution and by 2013, 74% of all higher education students were black” (Cloele, N, 2016, par. 8).
However, just because there were a high percentage of black students in that year doesn’t mean that the tertiary education system has progressed in terms of providing easier, better access to education for all students. Fees should only increase if there is an actual reason for it but this isn’t the case in South Africa. The government has instead continually increased fees to benefit their own personal gain. In 2013, “The Montenegro and Patrinos study found the returns to schooling by world region highest in Sub-Saharan Africa, significantly above the global average” and these returns are at their highest at the tertiary education level (Montenegro, C., Patrinos, H, 2013, p. 7). This is a prime example of how the reasoning for the rising fees isn’t justified and how the students might actually be right when they say the fees are set there to create a racial separation.
However, after the student protests in 2015, a great change did come about for students in South Africa. According to the NSFAS chairperson Sizwe Nxasana, “the budget that will be administered by NSFAS in 2016 to students who perform well and pass all of their registered courses will have their loans converted up to 40% bursary [and] into a 100% bursary [upon graduation] comes to R14.582 billion” (South African Govn’t News Agency, 2016, par. 6 & 18). While in the past not all students received the funding they were promised, in 2016, after the protests, many students who are qualified will be able to continue their education or return back to school. This is a great progress from what was going on between 2010-2012 in South Africa. In between these years, the “tuition fees at the 23 public universities in South Africa increased from R 12.2 billion while enrollments only increased by 7% during the period” (PwC, 2016, par. 2).
Overall, South Africa has shown itself to be mostly concerned with private gains at the sake of many student futures. However, due to the brave students who protested, changes were made to better help all students attain tertiary education. Despite the fact that South African universities may be top-notch and may have a high percentage of black students, doesn’t mean that these students were getting treated fairly in the financial sense. Therefore, tertiary education should be free to all qualifying students especially when “the African National Congress government promised the poor free education [in 1994]” (BBC, 2015, par. 12).
- N.A. PwC. 2016. Funding of public higher education institutions in South Africa. Available at http://www.pwc.co.za/en/higher-education/Funding-public-higher-education-institutions-SA.html [April 23, 2016]
- N.A. 2016. Government clears NSFAS students’ historic debt. Available at http://www.sanews.gov.za/south-africa/government-clears-nsfas-students-historic-debt [April 23, 2106]
- Cloete, Nico. Free Higher Education. Available at http://chet.org.za/files/Higher%20education%20and%20Self%20destructive%20policies%2030%20Jan%2016.pdf [April 23, 2016]
- BBC, 2015. South African students clash with police near parliament. Available at http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-34592523 [April 23, 2016]
- Montenegro, Claudio. & Patrinos, Harry, 2013. Returns to Schooling around the World. Available at http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EXTNWDR2013/Resources/8258024-1320950747192/8260293-1320956712276/8261091-1348683883703/WDR2013_bp_Returns_to_Schooling_around_the_World.pd f. [April 23, 2016]