The most critical test for making the best use of the funds allocated for education is to re-engineer our education system in such a way it helps to develop the skills that our economy needs, said Raymond Parsons, a professor based at the University of the North-West business school.
Parsons was reacting to the Budget Speech in which education – both at basic and tertiary levels – received a combined R792 billion. Department of Higher Education benefited handsomely as it was allocated R57 billion over the medium term to implement fee-free education. Treasury was compelled to reallocate its resources after delivering the medium term budget following former President Zuma’s surprise announcement about the implementation of the fee-free higher education.
Speaking to the SABC yesterday, Parsons said the decision to fund tertiary education to students from poor and working-class families was a step in the right direction. He also welcomed the fact that this would be phased in, saying this was good because we could absorb the cost over time. We could also, he said, monitor how it is going to be implemented.
“I believe the taxpayer will say I am happy to pay tax for fee-free higher education but I also want to see value for money; that it is well invested and it is not going to be wasted. More importantly, those who are going to get it will be held accountable and show outcomes,” said Parsons.
He said the other area that government needed to focus its attention on was fixing the foundation, primary education.
“Things will go wrong at tertiary level if you have not gotten them right at primary level. So I hope in our desire to make a success of the money we want to put in tertiary education, we don’t overlook that the foundation of our primary education is essential to make a success of all the other things we want to do at the higher level,” said Parsons.
Asked if the money would be enough to deal with the challenges the education system faces, Parsons said the problem was not money.
“We, as a country, spend among the largest proportion of our GDP on education. We need to ask as to what is it in our structure that is not giving us sufficient returns; why is it that the more money we put in, the more complaints we get about the quality of education system. This points to something structural there and so we must use this watershed decision to look at the education system in such a way that we will restructure it to give us better value,” said Parsons.
He said Treasury’s decision to fund free education was an indication that Treasury had its back to the wall and that it was not sustainable to increase tax or re-allocate resources every year. Therefore, we need to quickly sort out our education system, said Parsons, either at the primary or tertiary level such that we get value for our money.