Posts tagged "#FeesMustFall"

Back by popular demand: #FeesMustFall

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The relevance of this show is magnified by the intimacy the performers have with the stories. Pic Paul O’Ryan

Back by popular demand! The Fall will be showing at Baxter Golden Arrow Studio from June 8 to 24.

Professor Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, Research Chair of Studies in Historical Trauma and Transformation at Stellenbosch University, wrote of The Fall: “With all the images of violence in the media, it can be easy to lose sight of what sustains the journey that began with Rhodes. The Fall takes back the narrative and invites the audience to look beyond the headlines and to see the real human stories. It is a powerfully acted play, a profoundly complex and moving portrait of students’ struggle to free themselves from the burden of the historical legacy they inherited.”

and we said …

#FeesMustFall, #FindTheMoney, October 2016:

What a pity that before assembling a team to look into the cost of higher education – a team that, incidentally, looks better suited to dealing with international espionage – President Jacob Zuma didn’t spend some time this week as a member of an audience at the Baxter Theatre marveling at our country’s young people.

In watching The Fall: All Rhodes Lead To Decolonisation he could have heard firsthand the informed and eloquent arguments of a diverse group of recent UCT graduates who were involved in last year’s seminal #RhodesMustFall protests.

Perhaps we can still hope that one or more of his newly assembled “funding for fees” team – which oddly includes the minister of state security and the minister of defence and military veterans, but excludes the minister of finance – will see the show. It is on until October 29 and seems quite likely to move somewhere else after that.

The relevance of watching this production while universities around the country are exploding with anger and frustration is magnified by the obvious intimacy the performers have with the stories.

The frank, collaborative piece of workshop theatre was devised by the cast, with facilitation from Clare Stopford. Oarabile Ditsele, Tankiso Mamabolo, Sizwesandile Mnisi, Sihle Mnqwazana, Cleo Raatus, Ameera Conrad and Thando Mangcu draw on their own experiences, making for a richly textured depiction of the issues and ideologies present in the movement. The production is directed by Conrad and Mangcu.

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The Fall: a frank, collaborative piece of workshop theatre devised by the cast. Pic: Oscar O’ Ryan

The subject matter is expanded beyond statues and fees, syllabi and social classifications. Discussions of race, class and gender, patriarchy and sexism are all expanded to what feels like the edges and beyond.

A surprising and subtly handled storyline focuses around Cleo, who identifies outside of the normative gender labels. This narrative relating a personal non-binary experience in a hetero-normative landscape also provokes a challenge to media bias.

Where are all the queer bodies, the trans bodies, Cleo asks. Why aren’t they represented in history or media coverage? After all, no one doubts that they turn up when they are needed, “manning” the barricades when there is a fight to be fought.

The absurdity of racism is laid bare in ways that frequently make the audience wince. Humour provides great (if occasional) relief.

We smile a rather grim smile as we hear about the moment when, as the statue of Cecil John Rhodes is finally being removed, it dangles above the plinth for a moment “as if deciding whether to go, or to fall and crush the black bodies beneath it”.

As much as that moment of removal was invested with much meaning, a moment when, in one performer’s words, the “ancestors’ dignity was restored” it was just a moment, a moment that has passed. The play goes on to unpack how this symbolic moment extended into a series of other pivotal moments.

Moments when dignity is restored are few; much more often it is the opposite.

In one excruciating moment the audience is given some insight into the horror of proving you are poor enough to be given a loan to help with fees. Here, all of the family’s shame must be laid out for all to see, often over and over.

The shame of association is piled on some of us when one of the students talks about a white classmate saying that black people were better suited to working outdoors because of the pigment in their skin. White people, according to this theory, needed to remain indoors … running things, you know, governing and so on.

Those familiar with the preference for shortening “tricky” names turned scarlet when we were told to: “Learn my name!” A second lash of shame was delivered with “like I have learned the names of Tchaikovsky and Dostoyevsky”.

2PoliceChain 1PoliceChainAnd so the struggles – long and short, big and small – continue. #RhodesMustFall, #OutsourcingMustFall, #BladeMustFall, #FeesMustFall.

At the heart of it all lies South Africa’s stalled transformation process. We are left feeling that money must be found to fund this part of decolonisation.

Maybe there is some money in the defence budget? Extra cash in the state security system’s coffers?

Aah I see now … maybe the ministers of state security and defence and military veterans might be able to help after all.

Education crisis ‘the civil rights struggle of the day’

#FeesMustFall protests South Africa October 2016

Respected African elder statesman Jakaya Kikwete told the World Economic Forum’s Africa meetings in Durban that the education crisis in Africa was today’s civil rights struggle, and called on leaders in the developed and developing worlds to act urgently.

Tanzania’s former president was speaking in his capacity as Special Envoy for the Education Commission, a global body convened in September 2015 to address the crisis in education in low to middle-income countries.

The commission called a briefing of journalists gathered for the WEF Africa 2017 meetings in May to announce a “breakthrough” international finance facility for education, which it called “an essential step to ensure the Sustainable Development Goal of an inclusive and quality education for all is met by 2030”.

The commission was convened by a number of concerned world leaders, from the director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) to the prime minister of Norway and the president of Chile and many others.

Jakaya Kikwete

Kikwete said this august body had put together a team of 27 commissioners from around the world to tackle the crisis. These experts in knowledge and education and other relevant fields include eight Africans, all of whom pack a power punch globally, including Kikwete himself, as well as Graca Machel, Zimbabwe’s Strive Masiyiwa and Nigeria’s Aliko Dangote.

The commission’s preliminary findings confirmed that the world is facing alarming education crisis that is significantly more pronounced in the lower and middle income countries. Kikwete noted that this meant all of Africa since the continent had no high income countries.

The commission found that education standards in these countries lagged high income countries by as much as 70 years.

Kikwete, who has recently completed a research tour of an initial 14 African countries, said there are 100 million youngsters out of school in Africa of a global total of 263 million. At current projections, he added, that figure would have grown to 130 million by 2030.

And, for those who did start school, he said, completion rates were low, with too many dropouts at all levels of education.

As things improved in other countries, they seemed to get worse in Africa, Kikwete said. It hardly bears thinking about what the numbers would be by 2050 “when two billion jobs will have been replaced by automation”.

He talked to the dual problem of limited resources not being used wisely. As an example of what could be done with limited funds Kikwete mentioned Tunisia and Vietnam, countries with similar GDP per capita but where learning outcomes are dramatically different. Where a learning outcome in Tunisia averaged 64 percent, in Vietnam it was 96 percent.

WEF’s Maxwell Hall, Jakaya Kikwete and Caroline Kende-Robb

The chief adviser to the commission, Caroline Kende-Robb, told the briefing that the problem was magnified by changes in the aid world. As the education crisis had become more pronounced education’s share of aid had declined.

Kikwete said the commission was calling for an “unprecedented intervention” into this “grave” situation to facilitate a catch-up with high income countries.

The commission is calling for a compact between high and low income countries where developing countries commit to a plan of action to improve education outcomes, and developed countries commit to supporting them in this.

The big news at WEF was that the commission plans to create a fund of $10 billion annually as an international financing facility for education to support the aims of this compact.

When journalists asked how this proposal would be different from other grand development plans that had failed to transform things on the ground, Kende-Robb said this was not just about handing money out but rather a partnership.

She told Call Off the Search after the briefing that funding would be linked very closely to specific outcomes that would be measured on the ground. The obvious, such as pass rates and attendance at school (by teachers as well as pupils), would be accompanied by other measures of things like willingness to innovate and adopt modern practices.

The proposed fund would be used to provide grants as well as to provide loan guarantees and to subsidise interest payments. But it is early days yet and journalists seeking detail about implementation of the proposal, which the commission will be taking to the upcoming G20 summit in Germany in July, were disappointed.

All eyes will be on Germany in July but in the meantime the commission will continue its work closer to home. The next step is a methodologies workshop Nairobi in May, where delegates from across Africa will go into detail, Kikwete said, identifying challenges as well as solutions and how to cost them.

Whatever the outcome of these meetings on the continent and abroad, Kikwete said, dealing with this crisis was everyone’s concern. If the education crisis in low and middle income countries was not tackled, he said, by 2050 there would be a “huge surge” of migrants from the affected countries.

“Everybody has an obligation to support these countries … the effects will touch all of us.”

#FeesMustFall: good call, badly executed

dalogoI have been struggling to decide how I feel about the student protests. I have feel a deep sympathy for the students and support their demand to be heard. I have also felt rather ashamed at what a mess we, the adults, have made of things. But then I have also been appalled by the behaviour of some of the students, which at times has bordered on the barbaric.

It was in this context that I was so relieved to read Mmusi Maimane’s weekly newsletter, which is at once deeply sensitive and absolutely rational.

mmusimaimaneThis is what the leader of the opposition said:

Free university education is the ultimate agenda of the #FeesMustFall movement. As attractive as that notion seems, especially given South Africa’s cruel history of repression in education, it is simply not in our country’s nor even our students’ best interests. However, the students are absolutely correct in demanding far greater state support to universities. Because certainly, every qualifying student should and could have full access, regardless of their ability to pay.

No qualifying student should ever be excluded from obtaining a tertiary education on the basis of financial need. And yet poor students are being excluded on a large scale and with devastating consequences, because state funding to universities is wholly inadequate, having been in decline for many years. Why? Because our government long ago stopped caring about young people and their plight.

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No end in sight: The #FeesMustFall movement disrupted the medium-term budget speech in Parliament last October

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Taking the battle on to the streets last year

The week has seen a wave of disruptive and destructive protests by a small minority of students, sparked by Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande’s pronouncement this week on 2017 fee increases.

Essentially, universities will be left to devise their own fee structures, within the constraint of a maximum increase of 8% (the figure that universities themselves submitted as being the minimum required in order to maintain current standards), and the state will cover the fee increase for all students with household income below R600 000.

Despite government’s woeful handling of this spiralling crisis to date, three positive conclusions can be drawn from this announcement, all of them very much in the best interests of South Africa and our students: it shows a respect for university autonomy (although the main motivation was more likely to deflect responsibility); it shows a commitment to fairness, through using fee income from richer students to cross-subsidize poorer students; and it shows a commitment to extend state support to middle-income students, the so-called “missing middle”.

So it is ironic that these positive indications have provoked disruptive and destructive protest that effectively seeks a subsidy for the rich. The reality is that a policy of free (fully state-funded) education for all would not produce an optimal outcome for South Africa or our students, and we’ll all end up losing, but as usual, the poor will lose most.

In SA’s context of high inequality and scarce public resources, the policy would be regressive, because public funds that could be spent on poverty alleviation would instead be paying for an individual’s future higher income stream. This is especially regressive in the case of high-income students. But it is also the case for students who are poor now but will be rich once they graduate.

Exempting the wealthy from fees would put unnecessary pressure on the fiscus, and remove all opportunities for universities to cross-subsidize poorer students with the fees of richer students. It would also reduce the funding available to universities and the quality of education offered.

So collecting fees from the rich while focusing on ensuring access for poor and middle-income students is a better policy approach. The argument for fees is supported by basic economic theory, since a university education is both a public good, benefitting the general public through economic growth, improved medical services and so on, and a private good, benefitting the individual through a higher future income stream.

The students’ underlying message, though, is that higher education is severely underfunded. And they are correct: state grants to universities have fallen dramatically since 2000. This is the root of the problem, and the true source of student anger and frustration.

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Mmusi Maimane’s weekly newsletter

Essentially, universities are trapped in a vicious cycle in which falling state support has led to unsustainable fee increases, which have led to high failure and dropout rates (exacerbated by our dysfunctional basic education system) and low NSFAS loan recovery rates, making government increasingly unwilling to invest in universities.

This vicious cycle can and must be broken by restoring state subsidies to an appropriate level as a matter of urgency. The state should also fund NSFAS, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, to the level where it can provide full loans (tuition, books and living costs) to all poor students and proportional loans, tiered according to need, to middle income students who can only afford to pay a portion of their fees. But universities should still collect fees from all who can afford them, and NSFAS should aim for a high loan recovery rate, possibly administered by SARS.

The effect of this approach would be to make university “free at the point of access” to poor students, while still enabling universities to retain a high level of funding and quality. It would be progressive, as the rich will be paying their own fees, and the poor will only pay once they are graduates earning their higher income stream.

This level of state support to universities is definitely achievable, but it requires government to drop its anti-intellectual agenda and redirect funds from wasteful expenditure on vanities like VIP security and bailing out SAA towards the higher education sector.

Current expenditure on higher education in SA is only about 0.64% of GDP. This is low by international standards, with many countries ranging from 1% to 4%. By way of example, Brazil spends 0.95% of GDP on higher education, India 1.2%, Ghana 1.44%, Malaysia 1.76%, Finland 2.18% and China 3%.

So these students are demanding the right thing, but in the wrong way. Nevertheless, their essential call – greater state support for universities and poor students – should be heeded. But, any disruptive, destructive or violent action should face the full force of the law.

Criminal behaviour is criminal behaviour, no matter where it plays out.

So the immediate response to the protests should be threefold: clamp down strongly on illegal behaviour; ramp up the budget for both universities and NSFAS in line with other countries; and reform NSFAS to enable full access and better loan recovery.

But to get from good to great, we must remove the greatest obstacle of all: a government that has failed young people. It has failed to provide them with a quality basic education system. It has failed to enable a growing, job-creating economy. It has failed to recognize that its labour legislation regime excludes young people from the workplace. And it has failed to provide other post-schooling options in training and vocational colleges, internships and apprenticeships.

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UCT: ‘Universities are precious national assets’. Pic: UCT website

The ANC’s uncaring and indeed reckless attitude to the plight of young people is summed up by Secretary General Gwede Mantashe’s suggestion this week that universities should be closed for six months to teach students “the importance of higher education”. This idea is irrational, irresponsible and indicting on so many levels, not least because the crisis stems from government’s own failure to appreciate the value of higher education. But also because he would so easily jeopardise the futures of the vast majority of students and cripple our universities, just to punish a small group of radicals.

Our universities are precious national assets and we must give them the funding and protection they need in order to thrive – for the benefit of all South Africans and all our students, current and future. Our youth are our most precious asset of all and they deserve a government that treats them as such. Let’s make it happen in 2019.