Is Free Education Really Just A Born Free Dream?

By Rebecca Anne Cheeseman

Mid August this year saw the ‘reload’ of the #FeesMustFall movement across South African universities when the Council on Higher Education and Training announced that a further 0% increase would not be viable for future years. The Council suggested that an inflation-related increase was needed to sustain tertiary institutions.

On 19 September Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande, addressed the nation in a report stating that0% increase would not be possible, and allowing universities to increase 2017 fees- with an 8% limit. According to The Mail & Guardian, Nzimande said that government would provide financial assistance to students with an annual household income below R600,000, in order to subsidize the increase.


By Imraan Christian

Students responded by rejecting the increment, and emphasizing that this year, the movement’s focus is free education.

Those opposed to the call for free education on social media seem to dwell on an assumption that the #FeesMustFall movement is‘irrational’, ‘ignorant’, and ‘entitled’ because of the country’s poor and stagnant (if not descending) economy. What these assumptions fail to realize is that a major contributor to the failing economy is the mismanagement of funds, and if this was rectified – instead of brushed aside as a normality- South Africa could indeed implement free education for the poor and working class sectors of the population at least.

Just some of the ways that government could fund higher education:

Policing Corruption
According to Finance24, corruption has cost the South African economy an estimated R700bn since the establishment of the new democracy over 20 years ago. That amounts to about R30bn per year. If an average undergraduate degree costs around R120,000, then in one year alone, the government could have funded 250,000 student’s higher education. One year!

Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan, himself said that free education for the poor is possible through a clampdown on corruption. The person in charge of South Africa’s finances says that free education is feasible, and corruption statistics further substantiate that claim.


By Imraan Christian

Make the circle smaller (and less expensive)…
It is no news that South Africa has one of the biggest cabinets in the world. It should come to no surprise either, then, that this runs at a high cost for the country. However, in doing research for this article, I was exactly that- surprised- at just how much it costs the state to upkeep its unnecessarily oversized government.

We currently have 75 members of cabinet, including President Jacob Zuma, his deputy, the ministers of the 35 portfolios, and their deputies. When comparing that to countries like the US, which has less than half the number, it seems questionably high. But when one considers that each of these ministers and deputy ministers (as reported by Times Live in 2014) earn R2,1 million per annum – excluding benefits such as housing, security, and travel expenses- it becomes clear that this is an unnecessary and expensive burden on the state.


By Imraam Christian

Add to that President Zuma’s salary of R2,6 million, and the annual cost of approximately R100 million for his expenses and benefits. This is all without mention of the Nkandla debacle, which alone could have funded 2000 students’ degrees. If government both reduced in size and reduced its spending, there would be more resources for free education.
On a side note: vice chancellors of institutions across the country earned salaries ranging from R2,4 million – R4,2 million each in 2015. Another way to increase funding through decreases?


By Kim Ludbrook

Other mismanaged funds:
Post Office losses: R1,3bn = approx. 11,000 degrees
VIP Jets: R2bn = approx. 16,000 degrees
eToll overspend: R10bn = approx. 81,000 degrees
PetroSA losses: R14,5bn = approx. 117,000 degrees
Proposed Nuclear Deal: R1,2tn = approx. 9,7 million degrees
Figures by #feesmustfall

Prioritizing education

South Africa invests a paltry 0,75% of its GDP on higher education- one of the lowest rates on the continent notwithstanding that we currently have the largest economy. It is blatantly clear that the resources for free quality education are there; it is more a mismanagement of resources than not having them.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” *

Most importantly, there is a total lack of political will by current leaders to rectify this so that the implementation of free education can ensue.

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”  *

Free education is possible, and the #FeesMustFall movement seeks to address the still-present monumental inequalities in South Africa.

In solidarity.

*Nelson Mandela