Now’s your chance, Blade

Who the hell are you trying to kid, Blade? Students? Their parents? The public at large? The Party?

Well, whoever it is you’re trying to fool, you’re failing miserably. Your press conference last Thursday gives the lie to the notion that you are in control, or that you’re approaching the crisis – and it is a crisis, not a “challenge” – in tertiary education with anything approaching a credible plan.

For the last two years, you have allowed the tertiary education sector to be hijacked by a minority of rabble-rousing students, who clearly have no conception of what is feasible and desirable in the funding of higher education.

When the trouble erupted in 2015 for the first time, instead of taking a stand to contain the anarchy that nearly shut down the sector, you cowered instead in the House of Assembly when the #FeesMustFall movement brought the battle to where you thought you were completely safe.

As campus after campus descended into an orgy of destruction, you pussy-footed around the matter of student “demands” and you deserted the very institutions upon which you now rely to render an efficient service in higher education.

When the Fallists marched on the Union Buildings, your clever boss only made things worse when he decreed there would be a zero percent fee increase for the 2016 academic year, a further near-mortal blow to an already financially crippled sector, that had nowhere to turn in order to continue to fund its services, or to service the cost of taking outsourced services in-house.

That the Fallist movement does have legitimate concerns which need to be addressed is unquestionable, but the notion that everything which it has demanded is legitimate, is just plain stupid. And you know that. At the very least, you need to address the demand that tertiary education must be free for all.

That it is un-fundable in our present andmedium-term economic circumstances is completely beside the point. It is also impractical, and it was never contemplated in either the Freedom Charter or our constitution.

It is impractical because the sector is not, nor will it ever likely be, in a position to absorb every matriculant who leaves school with the minimum requirements for a higher certificate pass – 40% in home language, 40% in two other subjects, 30% in three other subjects – which is what the overwhelming majority of matriculants actually end up getting.

As it is, many matriculants from poorly resourced schools who achieve matriculation exemption – now known as a Bachelor’s degree pass – must take bridging courses in order to equip them to cope with the daunting demands of academic endeavour.

From whence will come the funding for the increased demand for bridging classes?

Oh, hang on a second, that will be up to the universities to fund, won’t it?

But wait, didn’t you restrict the fee increase for 2017 to 8%, and only for families whose combined income exceeds R600 000 a year?

Ah well, that’s no longer your problem then, is it?

But it gets better. Not only do you do a Pontius Pilate on the institutions upon which you now rely to render tertiary education, you also take a pot shot at the emerging private tertiary sector, that has burgeoned in the last two years, precisely because you do not have the cojones to take a firm stand against the Fallist movement.

The current instability at universities – with the notable exceptions of Rhodes University and Stellenbosch University, thanks to Sizwe Mabizela and Wim de Villers respectively – is driving students into the arms of the private tertiary sector, or even overseas, for those who can afford it.

But this you find unacceptable, characterising the business interests that have seized upon this opportunity, as “opportunistic forces trying to hijack” the student protests.

“It is also becoming more evident that some business interests are looking on with glee at what they hope will signal the collapse of the public higher education system.

“The expectation is that the current crisis will drive quality and confidence in the public system to the point where scores will seek refuge in more stable and rleiable private institutions.”

Those are your own words, which you uttered at that press conference on Thursday, and with which you damn yourself: “stable and reliable private institutions.”

The instability in the tertiary education sector can be laid largely at your door, as the person in government who has always had the wherewithal to do something, but instead chose run with the hares and hunt with the hounds.

You seem to think that it is a bad thing that those who can afford to seek private sector tertiary eduation, do, complaning that the casualties of the collapse of public tertiary education will be poor and working class students.

But whose fault is that? The private tertiary sector which is filling the space which you so handily ensured came to be? I think not.