Universities should not be money-making organisations, the fees commission heard on Thursday.
Universities were meant to help build a nation, not make profit, the South African Further Education and Training Student Association (Safetsa) said at the commission’s public hearings in Pretoria.
The association’s president Yonke Twani, and his colleagues Thato Kgetse and Nozuko Tukela presented their submission.
Although some countries had tried to implement free education and failed due to the state of their economies, South Africa could achieve it, with “imagination and commitment,” they said.
The University of Makerere in Kampala, Uganda, was one example where attempts to implement free education had failed.
“Observers argued that it failed because their economic climate was not yet ready for such drastic changes,” they said.
Safetsa called for government and the private sector to work together to help bring about free education.
The association said some of those taking part in protests against university fee increases believed the tactics used during the June 1976 anti-apartheid protests should be repeated.
“The throwing of stones and shooting of rubber bullets, the torching of property and tear-gassing, violence and intimidation have all become common features. While rage may help as a tactic, it should not be construed as viable strategy for sorting students’ fees problems.”
President Jacob Zuma established the Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training (fees commission) in January, to look into the feasibility of providing free higher education.
It is chaired by former Supreme Court of Appeal judge Jonathan Heher, assisted by advocates Gregory Ally and Leah Khumalo.
Its terms of reference include looking at the financial sustainability and institutional autonomy of universities, and assessing the roles government, universities, the private sector, and students should play in funding higher education.