EDITORIAL | Bailout: that’s the only way to save varsities and ...

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EDITORIAL | Bailout: that’s the only way to save varsities and protect SA’s future

If the state can bail out state-owned enterprises, it can do the same for tertiary institutions. And it must

Editorial

In a bid to prevent conflict on our campuses this week, several universities have come up with compromise proposals to help indebted students. These include prioritising deserving students. Education expert Jonathan Jansen sounded a sobering warning: “To those celebrating the fact that universities, in fright, are registering students with historic debt, I join you. But remember that such decisions will financially sink universities into permanent low-grade academic institutions unless that money is recouped from the state.”

His tweet was in response to a University of Cape Town (UCT) announcement on Saturday that it would lift a “registration fee block” for those with 2020 debt who would have otherwise been held back. UCT was not the only university trying to find ways to accommodate those affected. This as the South African Students Congress (Sasco) called for a shutdown at all 26 universities countrywide from Monday. The institutions had no other choice, really. It was the smart and right thing to do. It is not fair that students eligible to continue their tuition can’t do so because they are too poor to pay. Young, talented, hardworking South Africans should be boosted and supported at all cost to become part of a future generation building a better country. That should be the principle guiding any decision-making determining the fate of our future leaders. 

That said, where will the money come from to keep our universities afloat? UCT made it clear that the lifting of the registration block did not mean the debt would be written off. Other universities have also tried to make some type of compromise. Wits university told Sunday Times Daily it would assist deserving students, but not those “who have been failing for years”. That is also a sensible approach. Its vice-chancellor, Prof Zeblon Vilakazi, said student funding was a national problem which the university could not solve on its own. Simply, if the R1bn in student debt owed to Wits were written off, the institution would be bankrupt...

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