Now that President Jacob Zuma and the governing party have announced their decision to provide free higher education, his job in this context is not to fight about it, but to try to make it work, University of the Witwatersrand vice-chancellor Adam Habib told HuffPost SA on Tuesday.
Habib said he only asks for two things from government:
1. Now that you have made your pronouncement, explain to us how you are going to pay for it.
2. Explain it so that in two year's time, you don't create a crisis where you say you no longer have the money for it and that you cannot pay.
According to Habib, some vice-chancellors believe that free education is not a clever idea, and that it is not in the best interest of society in a highly unequal world, because it could mean the rich will get away with not paying.
Habib says there are other vice-chancellors -- like him -- who believe that free education will be in the interest of higher education, the economy and society.
"We believe that should the rich get away, we will catch them through the tax system. However, all of us are convinced of one thing -- this must be done carefully and in a way that works," Habib said.
"If it were up to me, I would have done it in a staggered way -- where there is a focus on loans, then a gradual shift as we work towards the grant system over a period of five years. This would have been monitored carefully and done thoughtfully, so that as the economy expands, to then shift towards a grants system from a loan system."
Government said it was going to do this in the February budget.
"We will wait to hear from them. So right now, I am assuming that government will meet its commitment to us, so our job now is to try to make this work -- the question then becomes how do we proceed to make this work in a way that is thoughtful and in a way that is focused on quality?" he said.
Habib also said there was no "chaos" with the registration process, emphasising that he'd like to dispel the myth –– running for a few days now ––that there was an issue with registrations.
Habib says that Wits has been preparing for this for the past six months, and that there is currently a debate around free education.
Full interview to follow