Havana free education

So Blade has met the vice-chancellors. Not that this meeting reached the tabloids. In fact, it was a subdued affair.
According to the press release the meeting was “highly constructive” and “ended with consensus”. Ended in consensus?!

But never fear, the consensus reached was only on the need for “a longer engagement between the higher education leadership and the ministry in the near future”.

Same old, same old. It was the same ploy those wily vice-chancellors used in their first engagement with Naledi, our previous minister, back in 2004. Have a day of preparation under the guise of a board meeting and then wine and dine the minister and bamboozle her, and now him, with the classic double-speak of higher education.

It goes something like this. Yes, we’re absolutely committed to national imperatives, but to realise these goals we need our autonomy and our academic freedom. Yes, we want to help you, but the best way to do this is by leaving us alone. The minister, on his way home, muses on the complexity of higher education, what nice chaps they all are and the brave way they cope with this intractable and problematic sector. Best to leave them to their own devices —

But can he? In the bloodletting that took place in the rain at Polokwane there was a need to come up with something that would divert attention from the political assassinations that had taken place. Normally this would have been decided in the policy meeting that took place earlier in the year at Gallagher. But that meeting turned into a fracas, which was compounded by the fact that Eskom kept turning the lights off.

So, with blood on the dance floor, the powers (that were to become) came up with the free higher education slogan. This wasn’t a new idea, which is why it was so easy to adopt. The idea came out of the ill-conceived formation of the South African Union of Students (SAUS) in April 2006.

After much in-fighting this body realised that it didn’t have anything to talk about and so at its annual meetings—which it often doesn’t hold because of lack of funds—it drums on about free higher education, normally with loud calls for free laptops as well. This slogan gained traction in youth league circles, probably because they didn’t have anything to talk about either.

There’s a lot of 30-year-old students in the SAUS who also occupy seats within the league. And from there it was just a little skip until it became THE announcement from Polokwane.

Blade knows all too well that it isn’t going to go away. Now, without being so bold as to write open letters to Blade telling him what he should do, I would like to make a simple suggestion. Get on a plane and head off to Cuba for a “sightseeing” mission.

Blade might be waking up to that idea already. He met a Cuban delegation on June 4 as head of the South African Communist Party and a reciprocal visit surely must be in the offing. And why Cuba? Well, for one thing, Cuba has free higher education. Sure, so does Belarus but who—apart from advocate Dirk Prinsloo—wants to go there? More importantly, the Cuban system works and can solve a slew of his problems.

First, students may get free higher education, but there’s no doubting that their collective arses belong to the state in perpetuity. No more whining about unemployed graduates and jobless youth. Every year we would have 160 000 new government employees ready to be deployed in and out of the country based on the whim of the state. You could even cut out the youth part of that bulky department: women, youth, children and people with disabilities.

The Cuban university has a close relationship with its community through its municipalities. Students and lecturers are expected to help the municipality in passing on skills and training, from basic literacy to information technology skills.

Now South African municipalities have been the bane of this country what with the lack of competency, leadership and delivery. Imagine plugging these gaping holes by getting every university, and further education and training college for that matter, to adopt a municipality and identify competency potholes and then fill them.

Why not locate the 23 sector education and training authorities (Setas) at these municipalities as well? That way you get delivery and a place filled with accessible expertise that builds the country from the bottom up.

And finally, Blade, in Cuba the state owns the universities.

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