Who and what should student protests target?
By Trevor Shaku & Elmond Magedi, Socialist Youth Movement
Students’ struggles are waged year after year. They raise genuine issues that affect youth and threaten their future. Financial and academic exclusions are the main issue. However behind this is the financial issue of a general lack of funding for needy students to assist with expensive registration and tuition fees. NSFAS, the main government scheme to offer financial assistance to poor students, has its coffers exhausted before even 50% percent of needy students can be assisted. Campus facilities have been damaged and burned in several institutions in protests for financial assistance.
But should the protests for student funding be directed at campus management? If not, to who should they be directed? In order to answer these questions, we must establish the root cause of the student funding crisis.
This issue first and foremost is an economic issue. It can be traced to the capitalist economic system of South Africa.
NSFAS is funded by the government. The government receives its funding from taxes (PAYE, and others). But as we have seen in last week’s ANC budget, the ANC government is embarking on a programme of austerity in government spending. But they do not touch the illicit financial flows, billions of Rand that leave South Africa every year without being taxed. Corporate tax is less than in 1994. Mass unemployment limits the contribution from PAYE (Pay As You Earn). All this impacts on the allocation for NSFAS and other social spending . It means insufficient spending on higher education institutions which results in them increasing tuition fees to keep up with their costs.
With this as the root cause of the student funding crisis, should the protests for student funding be directed at campus management? If not, to whom should they be directed?
The student struggles for student funding must be directed at the Higher Education ministry and the ANC government. The reason for that is simple – the insufficient funding of NSFAS in not campus-based and the expensive tuition fees do not arise primarily out of education institutions’ desire to do so. Hence Socialist Youth Movement (SYM) marched to occupy the Higher Education Department on the 2nd of March and is continuing protests all week.
Burning campus facilities and getting promises from campus managements that they are unable to up-hold has not proved an effective tactic to guarantee needy students the education they deserve. Yes there are gains to be won in this manner, but they do not resolve the fundamental issue of access to education for poor students. The SASCO leadership and some SRCs fight only for registration of students, not keeping in mind the aftermath of the registration and how students will cope with the issues of where they will get the money for rent and food.” Students end up quitting in the middle of the academic year having inherited a great debt, eliminating the chance of getting funding the following year. To many this means the end of academic life and wasted potential for the future.
Join the campaign to occupy the department of higher education. This is the right destination to direct our frustrations and demands to.