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A philanthropic spirit encompassed with an entrepreneurial mind, I am passionate about technology and the things technology can help people to achieve.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Burden of Freebies: Why Fees Must Not Fall

I have been following keenly the #FeesMustFall debate and later saw how the #TakeBackWits tried to rise but was threatened with physical harm and could not gain traction. I remember the Fees Must Fall gang canvassed for our pity when police descended heavily on them citing their right to freedom of expression. While we do not condone the police action, we must juxtapose it with their own reaction to the Take Back Wits campaign. I believe in “we must do to others as we would want done unto us” adage. This intolerance is worthy of another piece altogether but today I see to explore the Fees Must Fall to zero movement. I had a discussion with a Zimbabwean brother Mdu via Twitter, his question was “but how did Zimbabwe achieve free tertiary education for all?” I was at pains to prove that Zimbabwe at no time achieved the utopian of free tertiary education. But telling someone that this was never achieved in 140 characters will take the whole day. I was reminded of the inadequacy of Twitter to engage in meaningful debates, that thing of naming tweets 1 of 20 defeats the purpose I was not willing to expend energy on that so I wrote this blog post.

TANSTAAFL Teaches a Lot

To answer my friend Mdu I would have resort to TANSTAAFL and it looks right for Twitter as it’s only an acronym but it takes a lot of jaw jaw to explain it fully. This acronym simply means “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch” and put simply if you someone gives you a freebie then you can be sure it was not produced magically, though it lands in your hands for free, someone somewhere had to part with something to make it possible. From this we can see that university facilities will not be provided magically, someone has to pay for it. So immediately students of the #FeesMustFall movement should think of how to name their campaign properly to reflect what they intend to achieve, something like #WhoMustPayFees” would be more respectful. One might say, “what’s in a name?” but it can help calibrate the minds of everyone to think right about this situation. It will force the students to find a target for their campaign. If indeed these people are university students then we should not be content watching them throw 3 year old tantrums, no, they are mature and should be capable of writing research papers. So there is no need to treat them with kid gloves, they should not be allowed to wave placards but each one must go and write a research paper for 2016 academic year. The research becomes part of their coursework for the year and determine if they will return to university in 2017 or qualify for free education. The research paper must address the following succinctly:

1. Who Must Pay for University?
2. How much will it cost for all University?
3. What will happen to students who get it free and drop out, fail (nothing is not acceptable)?
4. How will those who fail to attend lectures religiously be treated?
5. How are other countries achieving the same result you seek?
6. How did these countries reach this utopia?

So with the above the 2016 academic year will close on happy note. My former manager Larissa spoke one sentence that has stuck with me and made me a better person. She said “it’s not enough to point out a problem in our organization to me, you must bring along a solution”. So the university students have brought a problem, they must bring the solutions that are good enough.

The Equation Cannot Resolve to “Government”

In the “who must pay” question I see many lining the argument that government must pay. I have listened to one PhD candidate quip, “if government can afford R240 million for Zuma’s house they have enough money to provide free tertiary education. Now I have had debates with people with PhD, recently an older man whom I asked for evidence to support his case, he retorted “do you know who I am? Do you know I have a PhD!” There was no evidence for his lame statement. That day I asked myself the meaning of PhD, I reasoned maybe it means “PlaceHoDer” that is a place holder for where sense of reason used to reside. I felt powerless to debate with this lady how Zuma’s R240 million once off cannot be compared to billions of Rand recurring expenditure with an inflation adjustment. With recollection I reminded myself it might end like “do you know I hold a Master’s degree? Do you know I am a PhD candidate?” But the question of who must pay cannot have a result that points to government. This is the illusion most of the proponents of Fees Must Fall suffer from. There is an ignorant belief that government has money. No, government has R0 to its name, all it has are debts, money borrowed from the tax payers on their pay cheques and profits. When you are a school you understand that a child does not afford school fees but yet sell the child an education anyway knowing the consumer is the child and the customer is the parent. So in the case government is the child and workers are the parents.

Fees Falling Means Taxes Rising

What the students and those who support them are advocating for is a rise in taxes or at the least a shifting of how taxes are spent. So the placard waving students must go back to their parents and say mum and dad, we want to increase your taxes so we can have free university education. This presents a problem for the parents i.e. the burden of being overtaxed. South African workers are in the top 40 list of highest personal tax, on the other hand the dependency ratio is among the highest in the world, unsustainable for a developing nation. It will take small contractions in the economy to choke expenditure on vital projects like Infrastructure development channelling it to welfare payments of which the R0 fees will become a part. South Africans do not have to look far for a case study, Zimbabwe’s receipts are being gobbled by civil service pay at more than 90%. Social grants and free education are static and not easy to cut with falling revenue so it the capital forming initiatives that will suffer yet these are the activities that create employment for the same students.

I have seen those for Take Back Wits being attacked for being privileged whites but this is just an emotional allegation. These are people who appreciate the economic costs of fees falling, children who have grown up seeing how their parents being taxed heavily. They appreciate how economics work at a personal level. Chances are those who are baying for freebies are children of those who are not taxed heavily so they do not appreciate where the burden of tax falls. They are likely immature children who will one day fall behind the former in life as they will take long to appreciate the working of money. To give you an example I take the bus with one white boy studying at Wits, he is always dressed modestly and probably falls into the Take Back Wits crowd. I have never seen him wearing Nike, Adidas SuperStar, Lacoste, All Stars or Levi’s just this past Friday he was wearing those Tommy takkies which are mostly worn by women. It was then that it hit me, the students pictured baying for freebies were wearing All Stars, Adidas, Nike and other expensive brands. I am a working parent and I have never afforded All Start or Nike so I look at these students and wonder who bought them these expensive kicks. Adding the cost of their wardrobe could come to a total of R30,000 and that amount is 75% of module costs for degree with Unisa.


So this whole fees issue needs cool heads, people who are willing to scratch beyond the surface and address the real issues. Leaning on Jacob Zuma’s government errors cannot be enough reason to sink the country into recurring expenditure running into billions. There are many children in basic education who have not enough resources for them to make it to Matric who just need something to make gainfully employment. For these university is a pie in the sky, a luxury still far from their dreams. The South African government might also need to review the entry requirements into university because if you are getting the calibre of people who burn university facilities then you might have set the bar too low to allow the riff-raffs in. 

As an aspiring entrepreneur it makes me quiver to imagine these same students might one day rock up at my company and want a job, God forbid if I delay their pay by one day they might burn the company down in protest. As I watched these protests I thought to myself I would be dumb to easily employ students from these institutions. Recruitment then will have to become thorough scanning people’s Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to see where their allegiance was during these days of mayhem and tell them “you were part of those who destroyed property, sorry no job for you”. 

South Africa as a nation has not developed to the point of providing free university education, one needs to look at the majority who cannot afford healthcare or basic education. The university students are better off becoming resourceful like those at Stanford or Harvard, who earn themselves and institutions money through innovation. How much technology gaps are found in Africa? How much expertise is required to study the effects of things like HIV/Aids or Ebola? How many primary or secondary students are in need of help with maths or science? All these are avenues university students can solve problems while taking care of their own need for education. What was that verse in the bible again, “give and it shall be given back to you good measure…..” There is a lot of work to be done by everyone to raise South Africa to the level of Germany generating enough money to have enough for things like paying universities to provide free education. Without this sweat and grit South Africa will be dragged to the hell bottom that many African countries find themselves. In future universities might need to use understanding of economics, business management and accounting as pre-requisites to any university entry.