Sustainable Higher Education Funding and Fees in South Africa
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Since late in 2015, the South African government has been under pressure to respond to an unprecedented post-1994 student movement demanding free university tuition. The no fee increase concession has placated university students for the time-being and given government time to reflect and consult on the future funding of South African higher education, and the inevitable trade-offs that will accompany any revised funding framework. The media debate has generally been ill-informed. Often overlooked is the evidence that no fees in an inefficient university system characterised by low participation and high inequality will benefit the country’s elite and further dampen the contribution of higher education to development. Nor can universities alone provide the skilled labour needed for economic growth. Structural and funding reform is needed but government does not have infinite reserves. The evidence shows that what is required for equitable and sustainable transformation is a differentiated post-school system, with differentiated funding and fees; an acknowledgement of the trade-offs between participation, public investment and fees in the university system; and a coordinated effort between students and leaders from all sectors to re-establish the university’s role in reducing poverty and driving development.