#FeesMustFall: Addressing Inequity through Education

The Jamiatul Ulama South Africa has tracked events in the on-going #FeesMustFall protests, with a deep concern, as university students continue to demand free tertiary education.

Our concern and dismay stem from the extremely violent turn of events at some of the campuses where infrastructure and other assets have been vandalised and destroyed.

Reports of cases of attempted murder, presence of petrol bombs on one of the campuses and an arsonist modus operandi does not bode well for the support and goodwill the protesting students have so far enjoyed from the general public.

Without appropriate restraint, the fight for legitimate causes often turns abortive. After all, beyond the protests, students will still want to return to lecture rooms. One wonders how burnt down lecture theatres and the wrecked infrastructure will serve the cause.

It is important that the leadership in the protest movement and the rest of the student bodies should guardedly own up their initiatives under this campaign in order to isolate those within, and perhaps some infiltrating their ranks, who are bent at wanton destruction.

Our considered view at this stage is that, when law and order seems to be getting out of control and violent flare-ups increase in intensity, the best way forward can only be through dialogue.

As a matter of urgency, it is imperative for the government, student bodies, parents and civil society need to brook an engagement that will find sustainable means of funding tertiary education.

At the heart of the #FeesMustFall struggle is inequality. While policies such as Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) were designed to address historical inequity, it is clear that the model has proven unsatisfactory to the masses who now wonder why resources have to ‘trickle-down’ to them, when they seem to flow towards few others.

This is a call for congruency in policy. For example, while our students are supposed to be empowered via loan-financed education, the burden of financial debt on a substantial proportion of our graduates, disempowers them, even before they are employable. It takes a number of years before such graduates to be truly be financially independent.

When we look far afield, Malaysia made education the cornerstone of their NEP (New Economic Policy), a corresponding policy-framework to BEE, where ethnic Malay had to catch up with their historically-advantaged Chinese compatriots.

South Africa, too, has to strengthen an educational policy implementation framework, deliberately designed, and robustly pursued, to be the centrepiece of socio-economic empowerment and the reduction of inequity.

In order for us not to continue to rue lost opportunities, we have to immediately, stop waste of public resources, unequivocally denounce corruption, demand accountability and prioritise the funding of education.

At the same time, students have to internalise the values of hardworking and dedication to learning. It would be futile to make resources available towards those who do not show any commitment towards academic excellence.

It is the rand that we spend on education that will go far in making empowerment to be genuinely ‘broad-based’ and without ‘fronting’ and ‘tenderpreneurship’ that has bedevilled BEE.

Empowerment through quality education is durable as it is inter-generational, widening the scope of citizenry meaningfully participating in the economy, and, in the process, helping South Africa regain a global competitive edge.

Jamiatul Ulama South Africa
12 October 2016

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