Amidst the debate and disruption over #FeesMustFall Ineng caught up with one entrepreneurial mind, Sihle Ngobese, who has been clear in his commitment to the problem and solutions at the heart of the ongoing crisis.
What is your view on #FeesMustFall?
The #FeesMustFall movement is a ragtag coalition of mostly trendy-Lefty and identitarian students. They are unified by nothing more than the slogan, “free education”, and generally have a poor grasp of how this would be achieved.
What makes matters worse is that the self-identified leaders of this coalition are largely economic-illiterates. However, what they are rather good at is PR, and know to focus on being newsworthy in order to enjoy wide and rather disproportionate media coverage. Sadly, they have resolved that newsworthiness is derived from the use of force, in the first instance through denying other students access to education facilities (e.g. “shutdowns” & entrance blockades), and secondly using violence and intimidation to coerce cooperation.
What are the risks of the current situation for the economy, and hence, entrepreneurs?
A protest in of itself isn’t a major problem. It is the riots and violence that threaten the image of South Africa. Our universities play a critical role in the active labour market policy approach we take as a country. They are the centres that produce the scarce skill sets that are needed to drive industry and create prosperity. If these institutions are “shutdown”, the economy and business lose out.
Entrepreneurs also lose out in so far as a fair number of graduates, especially those in scarce skills, often find their first job in SMMEs. Notably in industries such as construction, manufacturing etc.
What role can private entrepreneurs play in higher education, especially with so many having emerged catering to primary and high school level education?
The education market needs to be opened up to investment. Sectors such as healthcare would benefit greatly from allowing private sector businesses to establish training and development institutions of their own. Major hospital groups for instance have for many years offered to establish training colleges for doctors and nurses. This is investment which would have added capacity to the existing ability to train such professionals. The more professionals our economy develops, the greater number of income earners available in the economy.
If the state limited its role to the provision of education vouchers to the poor to pursue further education and training, there would be a flowering of education institutions seeking to meet such demand. This is the power of the market.
As SA looks to building an entrepreneurial culture, should education be “free” as some are demanding?
There is no such thing as “free education“. There simply is no such thing as a “free lunch“. Somebody always pays. In South Africa’s case, it is a small and ever-dwindling number of taxpayers being expected to foot the bill. This is unsustainable. What can and must happen is for the state to roll-back, and rather place greater onus on individuals (and families) having the liberty to pursue their own self-interests. As it relates to education, this can take the form of education vouchers disbursed to families. In essence, this would be a policy shift by the government, switching to rather fund families instead of funding institutions and their rent-seekers (e.g. unions). With an education voucher, the power and the freedom to choose where to pursue a quality education would be in the hands of parents, and not government officials.
What are the solutions to high fee costs in getting skills and education? Are there entrepreneurial solutions?
As already elucidated, education vouchers disbursed to families, would create the market wherein discerning individuals would shop around for value and quality. Thus the incentive for education entrepreneurs offering education & training would be for them to compete on prices and number of services. In order to win the voucher of “Mrs X”, Educational Institution A and Educational Institution B will have to compete to lure Mrs X’s patronage both on lowest price and number of services (value) offered at that price.
Simply put, a price system conveying information to buyers and sellers in a market would be the most reliable means to providing a quality service. After-all, Mrs X wants a quality education more than the cash of the voucher, and equally, Educational Institution A & B want the cash voucher more than the education service being sold. How these two meet is through voluntary cooperation & agreeing upon a price.
Above: Sihle speaking at an event at UCT
What is your message to FeesMustFall?
#FeesMustFall need to heed the words of renowned abolitionist and diplomat, Frederick Douglass, who famously advised newly freed slaves, “learn a trade or starve”. He recognized that the greatest liberty for an enslaved or once enslaved people is to acquire a skill that allows them to innovate and/or sell their labour and ideas at a rate which allows them to consistently build wealth and escape poverty.
Thus, preventing poor students, who themselves are slave to poverty, is an unjustifiable act of cruelty. Worse yet, doing so whilst affecting to trade on behalf of these same poor students, is cruel cynicism.
If you truly care about the plight of poor students then be economically literate enough to understand what will help them, and join a true cause seeking to extend liberty for these students too.
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