THE BLOG
19/01/2018 04:59 SAST | Updated 19/01/2018 04:59 SAST

Why Tertiary Education Institutions Can't 'Just Scrap Fees'

There is a perpetual myth that public universities and colleges fleece students by making class fees as expensive as possible.

South African students protest outside Parliament on October 21, 2015, in Cape Town.
Nardus Engelbrecht/ Gallo Images/ Getty Images
South African students protest outside Parliament on October 21, 2015, in Cape Town.

There is a perpetual myth that public universities and colleges fleece students by making class fees as expensive as possible. According to this myth, public universities and colleges are the apex of exploitative capitalism.

It might come as a shock to many to know that class fees represent roughly 30 percent of a public tertiary institution's total income. Another 40 percent of a public university's income is derived from state funds, based on the throughput rates achieved by public universities and colleges.

The remaining 30 percent comes from the so-called "third stream" – and more specifically, from private donations or from teaching specialised courses for corporates.

Announcements that public universities and colleges should not charge class fees means that someone else would have to make up the 30 percent revenue shortfall that would result from "free education".

The state's strategy of emphasising postgraduate subsidies is not good news for undergraduates.

Looking specifically at the state's 40 percent contribution, it may also come as a surprise that the state has decided to reduce undergraduate subsides in favour of postgraduate subsidies.

This means that there is less funding available for first-years and any other undergraduates to start or continue their studies.

The state's strategy of emphasising postgraduate subsidies is not good news for undergraduates. Undergraduates need to have counter-strategies in place to ensure that they continue to receive state funding.

That counter-strategy is not to be found in uprisings and burning of campuses. Instead, the counter-strategy must be to achieve better marks, that will enable students to claim merit bursaries.

The argument is that not all students can achieve high marks because they come out of difficult circumstances, in which the school system failed them. The answer to that argument is that private institutions draw students from the same recruiting pool that public universities and colleges use. The answer is also that public tertiary institutions achieve an annual throughput rate of 20 percent, whereas private institutions achieve an annual throughput rate of more than 50 percent.

The fact that state subsidies for undergraduates are reduced in favour of postgraduates means that private institutions would have to ensure they have competitive pricing models available that will meet the demand for undergraduate studies in the near future.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in blogs are those of the authors, and not necessarily those of HuffPost.