Matthew Lester on #FeesMustFall: Master manipulation of Mom and Dad

Once again Matthew Lester does some straight talking, and this time he takes aim at those looking to avert the #FeesMustFall crisis by finding alternative solutions, rather than tackling it head on. And the problems he highlights are definitely those of the first world and high end variety. Lester is talking about gap years, private institutions and e-learning options, all of which may offer a short term reprieve, but that’s about all. In his latest contribution, Lester makes note that #FeesMustFall is only one of many transformation components of universities that have been neglected for too long, and when the fees crisis one is solved, another one is sure to pop up. A good read from the tax expert. – Stuart Lowman

By Matthew Lester*

Matthew Lester
Matthew Lester

Warning! This is some tough love talk. You might want to show it to your children.

Wherever I go I hear the same line ‘my son/daughter wants to take a gap year in 2017 while they sort out the fees crisis.’

Let’s be brutally honest. How many parents can actually afford a gap year? If parent income is over R1million a year then, maybe, at a stretch, R100 000 or more blown on a gap year may be within grasp. But there are less than 100 000 taxpayers who earn that much.

The rest don’t. But many will be bullied and manipulated into impoverishing themselves on a gap year so sons and daughters can ‘find themselves’ while the fees crisis continues.

What absolute hogwash!

Gap years emanate from the United Kingdom education system. ‘A level’ results (at a far higher standard than SA’s matric) are released in December and first year university starts the following September. So UK students have a long summer to waste (8 months.) In the old days they would land themselves on relatives in the colonies. Or do a bit of voluntary community service.

#FeesMustFall, cartoon courtesy of Twitter
#FeesMustFall, cartoon courtesy of Twitter

The SA version of a gap year so often looks like an extended version of the ‘Plett matric rage’; a mindless frivolity that endures for nearly 15 months. At the end of the party many students struggle to get back into the commitment that it takes to tackle first year university.

Then comes the other apparent solutions to the fees crisis. Private universities, E Learning and even overseas universities that cost close to R500 000 a year or more.

Don’t get me wrong, I am an avid fan of aspects of E Learning. But a tablet in a bedroom will always be a poor substitute to replace university life.

Please don’t expect that any old E Learning program from a foreign university or private service provider will advance a student up the national qualification totem pole. Many offerings are certificates and not degrees.

Read also: Matthew Lester on #FeesMustFall: Some shocking numbers

Within the short term SA’s universities will be implementing aspects of E Learning to supplement and enhance what is already on offer. Dare are I say it, E-learning will help deal with the problems of university closures. But E Learning is not, and never will be, the universal solution SA is looking for.

There may be delays but examinations will be written. And students will get their degrees.

Even if the fees crisis were resolved tomorrow campus protest actions will continue. The fee crisis is just one component of the transformation of universities that have been neglected for far too long. This will take years to resolve.

Hiding away from the stark realities of the fees crisis at a private or overseas university or frolicking on a gap year is just bonkers. If you plan to stay in South Africa, that is.

  • Rhodes University Professor Matthew Lester was educated at St Johns College, Wits and Rhodes universities. He is a chartered accountant who has worked at Deloitte, SARS and BDO. A member of the Davis Tax Committee investigating the structure of aspects of the RSA tax system, he is based in Grahamstown. Follow him @ProfMattLester.
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