The importance of a budget that addresses #FeesMustFall

The importance of a budget that addresses #FeesMustFall

University protests have become our new normal. Students around the country are calling for fee free studies. Government has on numerous occasions stated that those who can afford to pay must do so, and that the poor and the missing middle will be assisted. 

Mary Metcalfe
Photo: Faith Daniels

Head of News, Faith Daniels asked education expert Prof Mary Metcalfe what advise she has for Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, ahead of Wednesday's medium term budget speech - with specific focus on the dire higher education needs. 

Here are Prof Metcalfe's pointers: 

Missing middle  

The country has been slow in developing mechanisms to address the plight of the missing middle - the group of students who don't qualify for NSFAS assistance, but whose families are by no means in a position to afford higher education fees. The plight of the missing middle is an urgent one that must be addressed. 

The ANC's Polokwane resolutions are clear that those who cannot afford further studies must be assisted. Government, therefore, must persuade this group of people that their aspirations will be met. Gordhan must assure the families of the majority of the missing middle that mechanisms put in place will help them get their children into university and that they are going to succeed.

UKZN students march to KZN Legislature
Photo: Khatija Nxedlana

Paying parents

It is important that Gordhan quantifies what the fee contribution is of families that can afford to pay. It is important to justify why these fees must be paid in the context of the tax contributions already made. 

Working class parents

If the minister can communicate to the working class and the middle class that there are mechanisms that will assist them to get their children through university, he will be able to address a large source of anger. 

For students who are from families who have no hope of raising any disposable income to contribute to higher education, he needs to give confidence that NSFAS, as a mechanism for the poorest of the poor, is working, is working well and that the aspirations of poor people to access higher education will be met through this financial aid scheme. 

The Finance Minister would also have to state unequivocally, with the support of the Minister of Higher Education and the ruling party, that there is going to be a clear policy document which outlines the progressive realisation of access to quality higher education on a no fee basis for everybody over time. 

Student Fees March Union Buildings 3
Photo: Maryke Vermaak


If an overwhelming view for free education is expressed - that must be consistent with the capacity of the country to provide it, and the nature of our taxation system. There is an overall sense that government is not spending taxes well. People generally feel that government is not listening to them and that it is not being responsive to their needs and is wasting money. 

There needs to be an ongoing commitment to address the reality and perceptions of government wastage of resources, and of corruption. 

Pravin Gordhan is on record as saying we can afford free education for the poor at higher education level, if we stop the wastage in government. He needs to convince people that he and his cabinet colleagues are together in addressing the issue of waste in government and the squandering of money, which is a source of great concern to everyone.

There are people of principal and courage who are inside and outside of government consistently exposing corruption. They are calling on our leadership to behave in ways that are exemplary and consistent with all of the historic traditions of the struggle against Apartheid. 

If those voices are supported by citizens of this country, we should be able to self-correct. 

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