As the new academic year dawns, universities and the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) will continue to grapple with their quest to stabilise campuses amidst the #Feesmustfall ongoing crisis.
Hopefully The Fees Commission led by Justice Jonathan Arthur Heher will present a sustainable and innovative solution when it submits its recommendations during 2017.
In the meantime, the ministerial task team for higher education chaired by NSFAS Chairperson, Mr Sizwe Nxasana, has proposed the Ikusasa Financial Aid Scheme as a viable funding model that will ensure that poor students are offered comprehensive financial, academic as well as socio-psychological support. The blueprint will source funding both from the government and private sector.
The problem with the solutions made by various contributors to The Fees Commission is that very few look at the fundamental challenges that face higher education including the high costs of tuition and other related fees as well as the low graduate output yielded by the post-school system overall. The return of investment for the funding injected by the state into higher education is not compensated by a higher throughput and success rate, with the biggest risk being amongst first year students, almost fifty percent fail or drop-out due to a variety of factors.
The Two States Funding Solution provides a comprehensive and sustainable solution for poor students, including the so called “missing middle”, who do not qualify for NSFAS funding. Based on a similar model in the United States, there is a need to consider the introduction of a two-tier fees system for in-province and out-of province students. A student, who expects some form of financial support from the state, should be encouraged to –through a central application system – study in their provinces in order to alleviate the high costs of studying out of their home town or province.
In essence a two-tier fees system will mean that colleges and universities will charge lower tuition fees for local students than it will for students who migrate from their own provinces, even if their study programs are offered closer to their own home towns or provinces. The benefit of studying closer to home will lessen the unnecessary migration of students, create a better support system for local students and make tuition fees more affordable for local students. Students will live at home or closer to home under parental supervision, extend the scholar transport system for the travel needs of local students and cut-off the high demand and costs of private accommodation for migrating students.
Most important, it will lessen the high failure and drop-out rate of first year students due to transitional issues and help retain the brain-drain for provinces that require an increase in a graduated workforce.
This measure will also encourage the funding support (e.g. Premier`s or Provincial Bursaries) to encourage local students to study within their own towns or provinces and retain their skills after completion.
We are making this point because we are aware that the beginning of the 2017 academic year will see about 180,000 first year students entering any of the 26 public universities available in South Africa. Sadly, half of them will not successfully complete their first year studies due to the unforeseen challenges and ill-informed choices that they have made to “study far from home”, even if the same study program is offered closer home.
If a learner live in a university village like Mankweng where the University of Limpopo is situated, there is no need for them to go and study in Johannesburg to follow the migration patterns of our forefathers.
If “Turfloop” can produce graduates like Cyril Ramaphosa or Ngwako Ramatlhodi, it is good enough for career preparation. After all, the benefits of students living and studying their home village, far out-weighs the unnerving experience of living in the slums of Berea or Hillbrow.
Besides their inherent challenges, experience indicates that formerly Black universities like the University of Limpopo, University of Fort Hare, University of Venda, University of Zululand and Walter Sisulu University, provide for a better student experience and support system than most universities in the big metropolitan cities, where life is too expensive for many needy students.
If one is not fortunate to get a university residence, living off-campus in a decent, quiet and safe private student accommodation can be an expensive option. Faced with high rental costs, many students opt to live in over-crowded rented private accommodation which often compromises their chances for success and inadvertently leads to failure, and having to dropout due to a loss of financial aid.
It is inconceivable to understand why a matric student from Gauteng, Kwazulu, Western Cape or Eastern Cape provinces should consider studying outside their provinces – at a high cost to their parents and the state – when they have enough colleges and universities within their home towns or provinces.
Collectively the four provinces have about 51 colleges and universities that can enrol up to 200,000 first year students in their public college and university system. The Gauteng Province has 16 public colleges and universities, Kwazulu Natal 13, Eastern Cape 12 and Western Cape 10.
Huge non-tuition costs will be saved in travel, accommodation and living costs if most students choose to study within their own provinces, supported by an extensive discounted Student Travel Assistance Program for commuting for those who live at home in college or university villages, towns or cities.
The Ikusasa Financial Aid Scheme funding model combined with the Two States Funding solution based on a Two-Tier fees structure will ensure that poor students are offered comprehensive financial, academic as well as socio-psychological support. By encouraging needy students to study closer to home or in their provinces, will make their support and monitoring of their performance easier. The system will make it easier for parental involvement especially for young and undergraduate students who still require support for their successful transition to college and university.
The institution and the state can be in a better situation to, in partnership with local municipalities, provide a Student Travel Assistance Program and Nutrition Program for students who commute from home to college/university daily. There will be less pressure on having to build new student residences at high fiscal costs, when Treasury – by its own submission – does not even have adequate funding for free education.
The implementation of these models will provide a better student support system that will see a gradual improvement in student retention, throughput, success and graduate rate. South African universities have relatively low success rates with a graduation rate of 15%, well below the national norm of 25% for full-time students in a three-year degree.