Professor Jonathan Jansen has warned that another 0% fee increase for tertiary institutions will be a death knell for universities.
Jansen was scathing in his opinion of the current Fees Commission and the fact that Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande is expected to make a suggestion on fee increases for 2017 soon.
The fact that politicians, and not university councils, will be making announcements on fee increases along with the fact that the Fees Commission is managed by a panel of judges, and not academics who have a vested interest in the crisis, remains a sore point for Jansen.
Speaking at the third Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) public lecture, themed South Africa Higher Education in Crisis: Possible Solutions, Jansen told the audience that Africa is littered with broken universities that held great promise a few decades ago but are now essentially defunct as a result of state interference.
“Today, the same things that took down those universities are the same things that will cripple ours. State interference is politicians deciding what fee increases should be,” he says.
Jansen says the legacy of underfunding education and the chronic instability facing university staff on an almost daily basis are signs that we are sitting on a ticking time bomb.
“The only thing that does is chase away the top academics and the fee-paying students because they have options. People who can pay will pay for safety and send their kids overseas and the academics with options will leave for greener pastures,” he says.
Jansen says the future of strong, vibrant universities relies on us protecting the rights, not only of the marginalised poor, but also of the middle class.
“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 says.
Jansen says securing the future of higher education in SA will need three key interventions which are:
- Free education for only the poor
- The middle class paying for the privilege of higher education
- The bursary funding model working sustainably to help the government retain funding for future generations.
Jansen will be leaving South Africa soon to take up a nine-month stint at Stanford University, where he will be a fellow at the Centre for Advanced Studies in Behavioural Sciences. He will step down as the vice-chancellor of Free State University in September after seven-and-half years at its helm. When he returns he hopes to set up a grooming centre for promising PHD candidates.
“No one showed me how to be a good academic, I just became one. My dream is to mentor young academics and show them what good scholarship is all about,” he says.
CPUT vice-chancellor Dr Prins Nevhutalu commended Jansen on his bravery as he championed the cause of education throughout South Africa.
“We are grateful that you accepted our offer and came here today to share your vision with us. We are inspired by it,” he said.