Address by the Deputy Minister of Education, Andre Gaum MP, at the Tertiary School in Business Administration (Tsiba) breakfast, Langa.
21 November 2008
Professor Fatima Abrahams
Good morning. I am very pleased to be here and I would like to thank you for inviting me.
Earlier this week I attended an event at a private tertiary college in Pretoria, a not-for-profit college, and I have been thinking about the contribution that private colleges can make to our increasingly differentiated higher-education landscape.
We encourage private colleges. We encourage their establishment. We encourage the partnerships they establish with both industry and state-funded universities. We didn't encourage private colleges in the early years of democracy. In fact, we actively discouraged them. Because there was a lot of exploitation of students and the colleges were difficult to regulate. And then came the wave of Australian and British universities setting up satellite campuses. But times have changed. Colleges like Tsiba and CIDA have shown us how private initiatives can make a difference, a difference to the higher-education landscape by providing free tertiary education to special students.
I think I am right in saying that private universities are a new phenomenon in South Africa - unlike elsewhere in the world (the US or India) where private universities have a long history. Most of them were the product of philanthropy - of rich men proud of their work and pleased to announce to the world what they had achieved for the good of all.
The concept of philanthropy is an American one. The great railway developers of the nineteenth-century and the car manufacturers of the twentieth century built foundations that today disburse millions to cultural organisations, to universities, and to the Arts. Part of the explanation for this form of social giving lies in the peculiarity of American development – no feudalism, no socialism, and no welfare state. Federalism has always meant a weak central state, and the Americans have always placed a greater effort in pursuing egalitarianism than in Europe.
There is a lot that we can learn about philanthropy from the US. And not only in its corporate form, but also from those smaller national organisations like the United Negro College Fund that encouraged individual donations from ordinary people. It started small so that it could serve a greater cause.
Remember: even dwarfs start small - as those of us who can remember Werner Herzog's great film of the same name know well.
But let me remind you: there is enormous goodwill in our civil society, our private sector, and our religious communities.
We are generous in giving to one another. We are generous in giving to the poor. A recent study (Habib and Maharaj, Giving and Solidarity, HSRC Press, 2008) showed that individuals give each year far more than corporates: R12 billion compared to R5 billion. Those are big numbers. They make you think.
Of course, individuals don't always give money. Individuals give their time and they give in kind. Poor households generally give less money, but more often and significantly more of their time. Like the traditional household labour of women, giving in kind has to be valorised in order to compare it with corporate giving. So that explains why individuals give more. Corporates give money, set up projects, generate new ideas.
If my memory serves me correctly - I think Trialogue is dedicated to speaking for (and measuring) the corporate social investment industry - some 60% of that R5 billion goes into education. Now in the scale of state funding, some R120 billion to schools and colleges and R22 billion to universities (including science and technology) each year, that annual R3 billion in education funding seems small.
We might be inclined to say that corporates need to do better. We might be inclined, but we won't. Because corporate funding is niche funding. Corporate funding goes into innovative programmes and projects. It goes into scholarships. It focusses on those projects that fall below the radar screen of state provision and service delivery.
Tsiba and CIDA call themselves private colleges. They do not call themselves free colleges or universities. And wisely so. Rightly so. Because there are few things in life that are free. I challenge you to name one. A free lunch, a free funeral repast, a free holiday to the Bahamas? Careful. They all come back to bite you in one way or another. You find that you are paying for them after all. Even after you have passed on to the great paradise in the sky.
There is a long history of free universities in the world. Some of the earliest free universities - the free university of Brussels for example formed in the early 19th century - were established to break free of religious orthodoxy, free from a Catholic orthodoxy that threatened the freedom of enquiry and the pursuit of scientific truth. Later, and closer to us in time, some universities took the name "free" in order to assert a political freedom. For example, the Free University of Berlin was formed in 1948 by a band of committed professors and students in a divided Berlin. It was in West Berlin. It offered "free" education compared to the "unfree" education offered in the Stalinist east. Today the Free University of Berlin is one of Germany's nine elite universities.
Today for us in South Africa "free", of course, means none of these things. It means that tuition should cost nothing to the user, a no less important if a less lofty sort of freedom.
Even so, the largest and the best today started small. But they all needed money. They all needed funding. While tuition in many universities around the world was free in the 20th century, private or public monies picked up the tab. Then came the great expansion of the last 30 years, and public funding began to buckle under the strain. Even the most committed social-democratic countries buckled under the strain and began to charge fees. They used one rationale or other, but the rationale was usually that higher education was both a public and a private good and students would be able to pay back loans.
Look at China. Massive investment in higher education in the 1990s to enable it to compete with Europe and the US. Massive investment and massive debt. What to do? Cap enrollment? Charge fees? One or the other or both. They have tried both. Capping and fees.
Between 2000 and 2005 alone, the number of undergraduates in China almost tripled from 5.6 million to 15.6 million. Those are jaw-dropping numbers. Despite this, there are still not enough undergraduate places for the vast majority of China's university-age population. Today, students have to pay for accommodation and tuition at amounts 10 times higher than a decade ago. Tuition loans are available to most students, but with graduate unemployment rampant – more than a million of this year's graduates have yet to find work – around one in five do not repay their loans.
It is clear: we need the private sector to widen access to tertiary education. Government cannot do it on its own. Our universities have been on a roller-coaster enrollment ride over the last ten years: too many students, not even teachers, not enough funding.
I think we have now reached an agreement for planned growth. Most university communities are happy. But planned growth means that we are not expanding our 23 higher-education institutions. We do not have plans to build new universities. Yet. We are drawing up a new ten-year plan for universities.
In the meanwhile, there are many young people in our society who cannot go to traditional universities, who cannot afford to wait for the state to build new colleges, but who can take advantage of private initiatives, focussed iniatives, quality assured initiatives. And, of course, with innovative BEE funding, complemented by social investment programmes that have broken free of their origins in charity, we can look forward to dwarfs growing tall and niche colleges growing into substantial tertiary institutions in their own right.