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Fees Must Fall a blessing

By Akhona Landu

South African students have a vibrant history of actively contributing towards changing the state of the country’s education system. The students before us stood tall and proud against an oppressive regime that stifled opportunities to excel for students across the country. They were unapologetic in their demands and methods of ensuring that the change they fought for occurred and would have sustainable benefits for future generations.

Our generation has been passed a baton fuelled with passion, vigour and a commitment to continue the work of those who fought struggles that were unique to their time.

Forty years since the 1976 student uprisings, a lot has changed but the residue of the previous system is showing its effects of rapidly decreasing opportunities for those who do not have access to funds. Over the years, we have seen an alarming amount of deserving students not completing their higher education studies due to the unavailability of finances.

I personally believe that higher education should be included as a basic human right. I boldly say this because not obtaining a higher education qualification results in less professionals, which has a direct effect on our country’s economy and further widens the already worrying economic divide.

Yes, basic education is extremely important but it is through higher education where active economy contributors are developed and future leaders are groomed.

I would like to commend each and every student who stood up and made their voice heard in 2015. We are now entering the 2016 academic year with your needs as a priority that drives administrators from higher education institutions and student representative councils (SRCs) nationwide to engage and find sustainable solutions. Your decision to stand up drove engagement in the right direction.

I would like to be clear though that I in no way condone the disruption, vandalism and violence that occurred. As the president of the SRC, my administration and I still maintain that as students we could have explored alternative tactics to ensure that all our grievances were heard and for sustainable solutions to be found.

So why do I say that the Fees Must Fall campaign is a blessing?

Well, I think we have to take a few steps back to fully understand my current disposition.

Government has increased education funding from R11-billion in 2006 to R26-billion in 2013. The evident increase in higher education expenditure has to be acknowledged but recent student protests indicate that what is being done is far from enough.

The current economic climate has resulted in the unfortunate decline in the percentage of government’s budget and GDP. This has put pressure on tuition fees, university funding and access to higher education for scores of deserving higher education students.

The allocation of student loans by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has risen to R6.6-billion for the years 2016-2017, recent protests indicate that eligible students are not adequately accessing the available funds and in some cases students have not been funded or were underfunded and remain with debts.

There are numerous reasons why this is the case but the primary one that needs to be highlighted is the socio-economic divide where some students have had challenges with documentation needed to complete the NSFAS application and also that some students lose access to technology that allows them to communicate with institutions of financial support as soon as they board the bus, taxi or train taking them to the township, village or homestead they call home.

Then comes the issue of the “missing middle” — those who are not poor enough to stand out but also unable to afford the cost of higher education due to the reality of their families being in the position of just getting by. The social shame linked with the affordability illusion of the middle classes needed a campaign such as Fees Must Fall to amplify their needs.

Another element I appreciated about the campaign was the fact that universities and the media began to look at the plight of students holistically. At the University of the Western Cape the included issues such as affordable access to healthcare, lack of student accommodation, funding challenges for both postgraduate and undergraduate students, increased academic support for non-first year students and extended access to on-campus facilities such as laboratories and libraries. These issues had resulted in increased anxiety and mistrust between students and us their leaders.

As we begin the 2016 academic year let us be cognizant of the reality that we need to proceed as a united voice that advocates for non-blurred opportunities to ensure that we contribute towards the normalisation of excellence for us and by us.

Akhona Landu is the president of University of the Western Cape’s Student Representative Council.

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    • Rory Short

      ”Forty years since the 1976 student uprisings, a lot has changed but the residue of the previous system is showing its effects of rapidly decreasing opportunities for those who do not have access to funds.”

      I agree that lack of funds is indeed a severe problem and needs to be addressed. In the mean time however what can be done for those effected by this particular problem and in fact for all students facing problems of any kind?

      Every one of us is confronted with problems throughout our lives. The problems can be divided into two categories those problems created by, or compounded by, fellow human beings and those problems that lack the involvement of any human agency as far as we know.

      Whether a particular problem falls into category one or two above the fact is, as the person enduring the problem, the opportunity to respond to the problem always exists, that is whilst we are still alive of course.

      Our responses will fall somewhere on a spectrum ranging from helpless inaction to action which itself can fall on a spectrum ranging from completely destructive to wholly constructive action. Our only interest here is in the constructive response end of the spectrum.

      What is more likely to occasion a constructive response to a problem?

      The answer is quite simple, the state of being of the respondent.

      A person who has a sense of effective agency in their lives is much more likely to come up with constructive responses to problems than someone who has no sense of personal agency. A person with no sense of personal agency is more likely to respond to problems by either remaining inactive or reacting with anger and destructiveness.

      Clearly then, as we all have to confront problems in our lives, it is in the best interests of everybody that all members of society should have a strong sense of personal agency.

      Everybody is born with a natural sense of self agency which sense of self agency social conditions can either build on or undermine.

      The reality is that Apartheid seriously undermined non-white peoples’ sense of personal agency. Apartheid is no more but the psychological consequences of it in terms non-white people being left bereft with a weakened sense of self agency is still with us. Why? Because the problem has never been directly addressed. Instead the government has devoted itself to providing crutches, for people with weakened senses of self agency. These crutches have been in the form of a raft of affirmative action type legislation. Such crutches do not strengthen weakened senses of self agency, instead they actually reinforce it. Self agency is like a muscle it is nurtured by exercising it not by removing the need to exercise it.

      The fees must fall movement was obviously created and driven by people with a strong sense of self agency and it was as a consequence highly effective. Subsequently, it seems, sadly to have been taken over by people with a much weaker sense of self agency hence the violent and destructive behaviour that has begun to characterise their actions.

    • TheNewFreedomFighter

      “The current economic climate has resulted in the unfortunate decline in the percentage of government’s budget and GDP.” Lets face it, finance (the lack therefore) is at the heart of the problem and I see that ANC supporters are quick to blame the world economy and external forces for this. However, the ANC’s failure to take ownership of the problem and implement policies that are pragmatic rather than ideological and racialist is the real source of the declining economy. In short, the people in the economy who could be gainfully “employed” by the regime to build the economy with their capital, are fleeing or at best holding back.

      The prolonged effect of the ANC’s BEE and AA policies together with the now very real threat of land expropriation means that the hated “colonialists” have to preserve their funds and assets, not spend them on riotous students and corrupt politicians.

      The ANC regime and the anti-colonialists have led many to the point where seeking methods for self-preservation is now more urgent than seeking methods for social development. Attitudes have hardened. The collapse of the SA economy will therefore continue unless the ANC can create an inclusive economy or I am proved wrong and their exclusionary and racialist polices prove successful. Time will tell, but the decline since the ANC’s Zuma took control is unmistakable and increasingly irreversible. As I said, attitudes are hardening as I write…