#Unintended consequences

The university population in 2017 will grow by a meagre 5 169, from 1 035 931 to 1 041 100, according to a Department of Higher Education document titled 2017 Readiness of Universities and TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) Colleges, because the projected enrolment target for first year university students has been set 16 000 lower than originally projected for the 2017 academic year. Similarly, Technical and Vocational Education and Traning (TVET) colleges will take in 118 465 fewer students than originally projected.

Quite naturally, student organisations are making threatening noises – the South African Students Congress (Sasco) says students will “revolt” – if enrolment numbers are capped.

In fact, Sasco deputy president Tsakani Shiviti was quite blunt in his threat: “If the department is not going to take the students we are assisting with registration, they must just expect the worst from us.”

Or, put another way: “We will continue to behave like spoiled children who cannot get their way.”

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the higher education swimming pool, it seems that the sharks are circling once more.

Any anticipation of a peaceful tertiary education sector enrolment cycle in 2017, is now forfeit, as the universities and TVET colleges gird their loins in anticipation of the inevitable mayhem.

But why has this come to pass? Simply put, a shortage of cash.

Although the Fallist movement smugly pats itself on the back for achieving a zero percent fee increase this and next year – the 8% bombshell Blade Nzimande dropped in the laps of vice-chancellors recently, only applies to the tiny minority of students from households earning over R600 000 per annum – it seems to have disregarded a fundamental economic principle: you cannot spend money that you do not have.

The tertiary eduction sector is dependent on student fee income for most of its cash flow. The meagre (and declining) government subsidies the sector gets, don’t even come close to providing the funding required.

Because the costs associated with running a university do not considerately peg themselves at pre-#FeesMustFall levels, the money must either come from somewhere else, or the number of first years must be adjusted downwards, and the quality of education services rendered overall must suffer.

As the higher education department’s document so succinctly puts it: “The higher education system is still reliant on student fees to provide affordable and quality education, and will continue to be (my emphasis) until such time as a new policy position is adopted at a political level.”

But it gets worse. Aside from managing to terrify government into abandoning fee increases for the foreseeable future, the Fallist movement also managed to bludgeon university managements into immediately insourcing all services, which adds yet another mortal blow to institutional cash flow.

Yes, outsourced labour does result in the worker earning less, and our tenacious inequality provides the imperative for a meaningful living wage, but in order for that to be realised, once more, the money must come from somewhere.

The University of Johannesburg said in a statement released last week on the current situation in higher education, that it has doubled the salaries of 420 workers in pursuit of insourcing of services.

That this move has transformed the lives of these 420 workers and their families is axiomatic, but from whence will come the money to fund this increase in employment expenses?

Most certainly not from government.

And what of the invitation from Pravin Gordhan to the Falllist movement, during his mid-term budget policy statement earlier this year, to propose workable, meaningful solutions to Treasury, for funding its uncompromising demands? Nothing but a loud silence.

For two years, we have watched the Fallist movement – an absolute minority of students in the tertiary education sector – create the currently unfundable expectations of the vast majority of students, who see a tertiary qualification as the only way out of poverty for themselves and their families.

And as the Fallist movement has seen its belligerence and intransigence bear fruit, it is ever-emboldened by a clueless government, torn asunder by factional in-fighting, which abdicates its responsibility at every turn.

The self-serving actions of both our political leadership and the Fallist movement, have created the perfect storm.

Would that they were judged for their actions as was Pontius Pilate, but in a political milieu where accountability is non-existent, their Tiberius too will be long dead before they are ever called to account.