One can argue that President Zuma’s announcement of free tertiary education, for students who can’t afford it, is a populist Hail Mary Pass; but the United Democratic Movement (UDM) believes there is merit in the idea.
From our point of view, the implementation of such an expanded programme can be justified economically, and free education is in fact a strategic economic impetus, as it is an investment by the state in the creation of a larger tax base. We have to keep in mind that three years of tertiary investment leads to forty years of tax revenue from graduate incomes.
The challenge will however be the fair and orderly implementation; it should not be assumptive and aggressive for incitement in pursuit of political positioning. It is therefore a little unsettling that the President had apparently taken everyone off guard with the announcement and he seemingly did not consult universities. University capacity, which is limited, must be respected in service of effective and efficient education for the greater good.
President Zuma and his cabinet must urgently spell out this plan in detail to avoid a commotion at registration; already universities have issued statements saying they will not accept walk-in registration. We certainly do not want to see another situation where police resources are stretched to handle disgruntled students should this promise not materialise.
Surely the President must realise that it will be too late to wait for the Finance Minister to spell out where the money will come from in February. To compound matters, university capacity must be respected in service of effective and efficient education for the greater good.
The UDM also believes that, once implemented, student’s progress should be monitored and managed as an investment is managed: unsuccessful students must be removed from the programme. This litmus test should be due every semester.
There is a high probability that the effect of a larger graduate population upon societal health generally, and upon reduced associated, concomitant state spending on grants and other social aid specifically, justifies the investment. And, in the long run, the values of an educated citizen will be underpinned by a patriotic sense of duty towards democracy and the responsibilities that it entails, and embody a commitment to develop the country in all spheres of society towards sustainable development.
Mr Bantu Holomisa, MP an UDM President