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Can Fees Fall Without De-Commodifying Knowledge?

Although South Africa spends a considerable amount on education, its expenditure on higher education is lower than desirable.

29/09/2017 03:58 SAST
Jaco Marais/ Foto24/ Gallo Images/ Getty Images
University of Cape Town students march during the #FeesMustFall protest on October 03, 2016 in Cape Town, South Africa. Speaking during a #FeesMustFall imbizo.

When the South African National Plan for Higher Education [NPHE] was adopted by the cabinet in February 2001, one of its long-term goals was to expand admission of students at the university by increasing the enrollment rate from 15 percent - 20 percent to 20 percent - 24 percent over ten years to fifteen years [Department of Education, 2001].

But there was no a sustainable funding strategy [Department of Higher Education and Training, 2015]. The current DHET funding framework for universities is made up of a block grant subsidy -- a range of earmarked grants, including the National Student Financial Aid Scheme [NSFAS]

In 2011, South Africa's state budget for universities, including funding for NSFAS2, as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product [GDP] was 0.75 percent, which was just less than Africa as a whole [0.78 percent]. In 2015/16, South Africa's state budget for universities, including funding for NSFAS, is 0.72 percent of the GDP, lower than it was in 2011.

Although South Africa spends a considerable amount on education, its expenditure on higher education is lower than desirable, as the current financial stresses that are being felt in the sector show, both at the level of university operations and at the level of student funding. As a result, students have to pay fees.

In mid-October 2015, a student-led protest popularly known as the fees must fall campaign under the hashtag #FeesMustFall emerged in response to an increase in fees at South African Universities. The Protests started at the University of Witwatersrand and spread to the University of Cape Town and Rhodes University before rapidly spreading to other universities across the country.

The international solidarity for the #FeesMustFall was observed elsewhere in Africa, in cities like Nairobi and Port Harcourt, as well as in the UK, the US and parts of South East Asia. The #FeesMustFall campaign was very visible on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, there have been more than 140,000 tweets worldwide with the hashtag #FeesMustFall.

Students believe that South Africa needs a skilled youth for its economic development. Thus when free education is introduced the majority will acquire the necessary skills

Some of the reasons for free education [South African Union of Students, 2016]:

• Poor background of many of our students whose families cannot afford to pay the exorbitant costs of study.

• Increasing student debts [students call it "black debt"].

• Social justice and transformation [students believe that free education is a vehicle to achieve social justice and transformation].

• Black student enrolment has been increasing over the years and the majority of their families are located on the periphery of South African economic activities.

• Students believe that South Africa needs a skilled youth for its economic development. Thus when free education is introduced the majority will acquire the necessary skills.

Knowledge as a commodity in a neoliberal economy: Can fees fall?

There is a considerable body of literature which explores the effects of neoliberalism on education policy and practice [Neoliber and Giroux, 2002; Olsen and Peters, 2005; Davies and Bansel, 2007; Ball, 2012; Chopra, 2003; Down, 2009]. Despite the depth of literature on neoliberalism, there is a need to consider further how neoliberal policy shapes the selves of students and how these selves are positioned within the overall aims of education.

Neoliberal forms of governance have attained transnational hegemonic status which, resting on governance of regions, groups, and individuals through specific policy approaches such as decentralization, privatization, and individualization [Phillips and Ilcan, 2004].

Within neoliberal doctrine, the market becomes the central organising principle for political, economic, and social decision-making [Chopra, 2003]. The neoliberal school advocators discourage the interference of government in the market, instead, they preach "laissez-faire" and assign the law of supply and demand to regulate the market through the hegemony of the invisible hand.

Neoliberalism has diluted the universities 'non-profit status', University presidents are told to emulate successful corporate CEOs, even though the universities are neither expected to earn a profit nor obligated to maximize returns to their "stockholders".

The Law of supply and demand

The concept of demand refers to the quantity of a good or service that consumers are willing and able to purchase at a various price during a given period of time [Eastin and Arbogast, 2011]. Research has proven that demand, in economics, is something more than desire to purchase though desire is one element of it. Effective demand for a thing depends on:

a. Desire

b. Means to purchase

c. Willingness to use those means for that purchase

At the same time quantity demand is always expressed at a given price. In product markets, supply is related to the selling activity of businesses. The role of supply is most easily analyzed in competitive markets, where the "invisible hand" of competition, identified by Adam Smith, operates. When price changes, quantity supplied changes in the same direction.

The impact of Neoliberal policies on university systems

Neoliberalism has diluted the universities 'non-profit status', University presidents are told to emulate successful corporate CEOs, even though the universities are neither expected to earn a profit nor obligated to maximize returns to their "stockholders".

The New Public Management which is the baby child of neoliberalism discourage government to provide certain public goods/services has forced the government to rely on private sector and universities self-funding strategies... All of these have commodified knowledge production and students have become consumers.

In order for fees to fall, knowledge needs to be de-commodified.

Knowledge as a commodity

By considering knowledge as commodity, automatically it gets guide by the law of supply and demand:

Modules have price,

Printing credit,

Accommodations,

Prescribed books...

Knowledge as Commodity vs the Law of Supply

The invisible hand vs demand for knowledge

Competition

Affordability

Market demands

Decommodification vs Fees

Decommodify knowledge first

There needs to be a focus on South Africa's higher education funding method and the government's market policies. South Africa does not have a clear funding method for higher education. In order for fees to fall, knowledge needs to be de-commodified, the government needs to have a clear funding method with the will to implement it.