Tough road ahead for universities

Professor Jonathan Jansen.

Professor Jonathan Jansen has warned that higher education institutions in South Africa are in peril, but three key actions can save them.

The outgoing vice-chancellor of the University of the Free State (UFS), was speaking at the third Cape Peninsula University of Techology (CPUT) and Cape Times public lecture at the university’s Bellville campus on Thursday August 25.

Professor Jansen was the keynote speaker on the topic, “South Africa Higher Education in Crisis: Possible Solutions”.

He was blunt in his criticism of the zero percent fee increase that was announced by President Jacob Zuma last year.

He also warned that another zero percent fee increase could cripple universities.

“You can’t run a university on a zero percent fee increase. There has to be an income increase which is a very important distinction that vice-chancellors have made. You can debate this and talk about it as a business model that doesn’t work, but our ability to have high-quality and competitive universities, depends on what you do with the money you have.”

Professor Jansen was unapologetic in his opinion of the current Fees Commission and the fact that

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politicians, and not university councils, would be making an announcement on fee increases, along with the fact that the commission is managed by judges and not academics. The commission is only expected to present its report next year on the fee increase.

“I believe in free education, but, free education for the poor. A student that comes from an area such as Thaba Nchu who managed to achieve five to seven distinctions and plays by the rules should be given access to free education but not just tuition fees, also accommodation and books.

“Education, however, is never really free because even if you get all these things free, you pay for something to get the education in two ways. A student from Thaba Nchu will still have to pay for his travelling, his food and this person is essentially giving up an income in order to study.”

Professor Jansen says we need to insist on free education for the poor, as it is unfair and unjust to exclude people simply because they do not have the money.

“I would not have gone to university had I not taken out a loan, which I had to pay back when I became a teacher,” he said.

Professor Jansen also spoke on the state of universities in Africa, describing them as broken, due to state interference.

He said the legacy of underfunding education and chronic instability are issues university staff face daily.

“The only thing that does is to chase away the top academics and paying students as they have options. People who can pay will pay for safety and send their children overseas and the academics will seek greener pastures.”

Professor Jansen says three things can secure the future of higher education in South Africa:

* Free education for only the poor.

* The middle class must pay for the privilege of higher education.

* The bursary funding model must work sustainably so government can recoup the funding for future generations.

“The middle-class students are desperately needed in universities. Not only do they cross-subsidise the poor, but they also add to the rich cultural mix that make being at university life- changing. Take them away and you are left with poor kids and the lecturers that no one else wants. At my university, many students will meet a black person for the first time on a nominally equal basis.

“These are important relationships that need to be built for the betterment of the country,” he said.

Professor Jansen will take up a nine-month stint at Standford University in America. He steps down as vice-chancellor in September, after seven and a half years at UFS.