Mailbox: Free university & its unintended (positive) consequences

President Jacob Zuma last week sided with demands from students not to increase university fees next year. But this was met with chaotic ruptures from both students and the police and following this there have been murmurings that the students want more. Some going as far as calling for a blanket exemption of all tertiary institution fees going forward. Matthew Lester wrote an article on how this notion is unaffordable unless the government forgoes projects like National Health Insurance, which is non-negotiable. But what if the reality of free university does come to the fore? Biznews community member Michael McWilliams sent in the below response, looking at the unintended consequences of free university. An interesting little read. – Stuart Lowman

By Michael McWilliams*

Offering free university education is a very good way to incentivize performance at schools.

That a Learner attends Primary and Secondary school in SA merely means that the child is obeying the law of the land. Earning a place in a university however, means that the Learner has applied him or herself to the task of learning and excelled sufficiently to have gained enough credits to enter a university. Free University education would be an excellent way of rewarding merit and hard work.


Naturally, this would be a very costly, but worthwhile endeavor and government would need to find ways of affording it.

It would soon occur to the Minister of Finance, that the sluicegate opened by downgrading matric pass rates makes the flood of poorly qualified first-year students unaffordable.

The huge amount of students who fail first-year university will put an unnecessary strain on the free university system.

Read also: Matthew Lester: #FeesMustFall – Academic week lost, unknown consequences.

The only way that this flood can be controlled is to raise the standard of secondary education so as to once again, make university entry more relevant to those who are likely to actually finish their chosen courses.

Naturally, the free part would fall away if a student were to fail any year during their course.

Thus, for once, the unintended consequences of badly thought out government policy may actually be beneficial to society. Scholars will be rewarded for effort, matric standards raised and free University education will boost the economy by putting more and better students into productive employment once they have graduated.

* Michael McWilliams, Author of the novel Osama’s Angel and the non-fiction Battle for Cassinga

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