A student movement etched deeply into Higher Education's history started in October 2015 and now five years later, we see the question of equality within higher education still being discussed. How has the conversation changed and how has it not?
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It's officially been five years since the Fees Must Fall movement which took place in October 2015 and was a major mark in student activism history. This movement saw students all over South Africa advocating for increasing of fees to be stopped and for Government to increase funding for Universities.
Now, in 2020, the fight for equal excess to education continues as higher education is greatly affected by a pandemic. It seems that inequalities still exist within higher education with the Department having had acknowledged it themselves.
Chief of Staff at the Small Business Development Ministry and a former student activist, Sarah Mokwebo, spoke to eNCA and said:
Covid highlighted some of the issues we highlighted in 2015 to say as much as what sparked the whole thing was the fact that tuition fees were increasing ... there are a whole lot of other conversations we've had about institutions of higher learning that were not given the attention they required.
Following the Fees Must Fall movement, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme made the decision to move to a bursary system instead of a loan system. This then sees any student funded by NSFAS in 2018 and thereafter not having to pay back any of their fees, should they meet the criteria.
This pandemic has also given light to the inequalities that exist in higher education and the lack of resources some students are faced with when compared to others. This opened up the conversation of access within the sector.
Many feel that the Ministry's slogan of #SaveTheAcademicYear during lockdown was only serving those students who had access to resources while others were left in the dark and are still waiting for equipment so that they can access online learning.
Mokwebo says that a conversation that didn't take place was about how learning processes differ in the medium it's delivered. "As much as students have access to laptops and data, the manner in which the lecturers were teaching was also another complexity that really did make the learning for a whole lot of learners much more difficult".
"Teaching and learning was one of the many things that we did bring up to say perhaps we also need to look into how we teach and how we learn," said Mokwebu. An example she gives is that with a teaching instruction being in English, this advantages a large amount of students who did not learn English in high school.
She then goes on to say that the conversations which were happening in 2015 wasn't only about tuition fees but also about institutions of higher learning in themselves.
There are many similarities with how higher education institutions have had to shift their operations due to something bigger happening such as in 2015 and now in 2020. "I also feel like institutions of higher learning as a whole relegated responsibility to Government.
- Sarah Mokwebu
Mokwebu believes that institutions should have given students the option to stay at their residences at the beginning of lockdown so that students could have access to resources and be in conducive learning environments.
A recent movement towards equality within higher education can be seen in the protests initiated by the South African Students Congress (SASCO) just last week for TVET students to be seen as an institution of choice and to have the standard which Universities have.
To incoming students, Mokwebu says, "Fight for inclusivity whether or not it affects you, whether or not you are privileged".
Tags: Fees Must Fallhigher educationNSFAScovidcovid19Covid-19coronaviruscoronaonline learninguniversitytvet college