The genres might be different in content but both the Student Cities Summit to be held on 26-29 March 2017 at the Krystal Beach Hotel in Gordon`s Bay and the 18th Annual Cape Town Jazz Festival hosted on 30 March 2017 to 1 April 2017 has put together a great line-up of world class speakers and performers billed for this memorable week in the mother city.
It was only in 1999 that the jazz event started as the then Cape Town North Sea Jazz Festival at the Good Hope Centre but 18 years later it has grown to be one of the great events in the social calendar of Cape Town, raking in millions of rands in revenue for the Western Cape local economy. In 2029 the event will celebrate its 30 years of existence in the same year that South Africa will be celebrating its eighth democratic elections and 35 years of democracy.
In the meantime the National Development Plan will reach its 2030 milestone, the year in which the NDP envisages greater graduate outputs for the post-secondary sector in both TVET colleges and universities.
With the current status quo of both the inside and outside classroom curricular, will the goals of greater graduate outputs be realised? The answer is no, unless greater efforts are invested into bringing back the culture of learning and scholarship in both the institutions of learning complemented by a concurrent development to reclaim university towns as centres of learning. After all, over eighty percent of our students live, learn and play in the city centres, rather than on their university or college campus.
In the 12th century, when the early medieval universities came into existence, these universities were founded without physical campuses. The masters simply rented lecture halls in the host cities and learning occurred there. And today you find students gathered and doing research in the Tshwane WIFI hotspots throughout the City of Tshwane where there is Free Wifi. In these medieval times, the scholars often congregated in identifiable areas of cities, most famously the Left Bank (Rive gauche) of the Seine in Paris – what became known as the Quartier Latin.
Thus, the medieval universities were more integrated into the cities than in the case of the Academy. It is by no accident that most medieval universities were founded within cities. The schools’ existence required a permanent population and an infrastructure that included a vibrant marketplace and system of governance, but their dependence on the host towns was limited. Since these early times, the town gown relations have diminished over time, with each entity operating exclusive from each other, to the detriment of its student communities. In South Africa the problem is even more acute and pronounced.
The true fruits of freedom through education, and the achievement of a greater graduate output can only be realised if we fix both the universities and the university towns themselves to realise that the provision of education and the related support systems, is the only intervention that can liberate future generations from the vicious cycle of inter-generational poverty.
Every year, we let our best minds go to waste in our student cities that are ill or under-prepared to receive thousands and thousands first years who migrate to the big cities and are distracted by the bright lights of these student cities into failure. With universities and colleges having less than 5% capacity to accommodate first years into their campus residences, almost 95% of these vulnerable first years find themselves at the mercy of all sorts of temptations and distractions, away from the supervisions of their parents and villages. No wonder 50% of them fail and drop-out in their first year.
The Student Cities Summit has put together a team of thought-leaders to first acknowledge that there is a big problem. Colleges and universities can no longer be left alone to deal with the plight of commuter students. The leasing of limited private student accommodation cannot sufficiently alleviate the shortage of campus-based accommodation. With the current economic climate, the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and Treasury will never have enough money to fund institutions with enough financing to build residences for 50% of the current total student population. We can no longer plan on what we cannot afford, but rather focus on how we can support commuters from where they are staying.
In another article (The Two States Solution) it has been proposed that policy needs to be initiated to limit the unnecessary migration of students from their home university towns and provinces (e.g. students from Tshwane and Joburg or Gauteng), so that they can commute from home rather than go and study in another province where they will put more pressure on the private accommodation crisis. By studying closer to home, these students will not only save NSFAS money for accommodation but also alleviate the high need for accommodation.
But then if students are commuting from home, the local municipalities will have to step in to provide an efficient and affordable public transport to support the daily travel needs of students. Through the introduction of the Student Travel Assistance Initiative (STASSI) both the Department of Transport and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) would be able to invest a minimum of R5000 per month (instead of R50,000 in residence fees) per student per annum. Just this one policy intervention, would be able to cut by half both the demand for residences and funding for student accommodation. The question is, why should we allow a student to move from Polokwane to Cape Town to study Human Resources?
So hopefully, the various speakers will be able to contribute towards unpacking the problem, and then funding innovative solutions to the issue of low retention and success rates. By the time we celebrate 30th Annual Cape Town International Jazz Festival and the 12th Annual Student Cities Summit, the National Development Plan should have reached at least the 50% graduate output threshold by 2030 and for the majority of our people to finally break the shackles of poverty through education.