Government should look to its bloated Cabinet and “vanity projects” as a mechanism to increase its funding for higher education institutions, Equal Education (EE) said on Monday.
Addressing the Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training in Cape Town, EE officers argued that universities could not, and must not, be expected to carry the burden of free tertiary education.
EE’s parliamentary officer Andile Cele said that government funding had gone down over the years and that tuition fees had overtaken third stream funding.
“A 0% increase on R150,000 is still a lot of money… If the burden is on the student, you will find that the majority of black people and poor people will not access higher education.”
Evidence leader Advocate Kameshni Pillay said that the Treasury had already indicated the “cake” had only so many slices.
Cele smiled and referred to the country’s large Cabinet.
“You have deputy, deputy directors, you have acting director generals. If you streamline those positions, you will have funding. There is money when you look for it.”
“SAA; Eskom are always looking for bailouts. The stadiums [for the World Cup], we found the money.”
Commissioner Leah Khumalo asked what they meant by government urgently reviewing so-called “vanity projects”.
Cele replied: “Remodelling the president’s houses and certain officers getting private jets.”
EE recommended that a determined state would also examine personal taxation, which could be levied for the top 10% of taxpayers.
It felt no student, who met the requirements for university admission, should be excluded for financial reasons.
‘Problem starts in Grade 1’
EE said there was a systematic problem, with challenges in basic education following black students into higher education.
“The problem starts in Grade 1; Grade 2 – in the ECD (early childhood development sector). They spend eight hours a day drawing and colouring in,” said Cele.
“Your white counterpart that goes to an ECD centre in Rondebosch will be building blocks and counting ‘1,2,3’. That difference is already established in the early years.”
Assuming money was found, Pillay asked whether higher education should be prioritised or whether basic education or other departments were perhaps needier.
Cele replied that all departments needed money, but that education was very vital. Sometimes it was not the funding that was a problem, but the way it was used.
She argued that the higher education sector had more autonomy.
“If you give them the money, you trust they are able to handle the additional allocations.”
The Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training was established following the Fees Must Fall protests, which demanded a 0% fee increase.
The first set of hearings was for the commission to receive an overview of the relevant issues from various organisations.
Hearings will also take place in Bloemfontein and Kimberley this week.