Universities are as important to the economy as the country’s state-owned enterprises.
It is also simple to draw a straight line between Eskom’s debt and the failings of our burnt-out economy, which has been subjected to load-shedding for 15 years. When Eskom is allowed to fall further into financial disarray and is unable to maintain its ageing infrastructure or retain the people with the necessary skills, the lights go out.
We can all feel it. Work comes to a halt, dinners are served cold, and even the most gentle hearts become enraged.
Today, students and universities are held hostage by debt, which has accumulated to more than R16 billion and is increasing at a rate of about R2-billion per year.
When compared to the debts of some of our other public institutions, this amount may appear to be a drop in the bucket. This explains why we might be more concerned with, say, Eskom, which has watched the debt owed to it by municipalities balloon to more than R46 billion. This is in addition to the staggering R369 billion the
However, allowing universities to collapse under the weight of debt will result in more than just lights going out. First, there is a dimming in the eyes of students, many of whom are finding the burden of the fees struggle too heavy to continue. The flame of despair threatens to ignite whatever spark remains. And universities become hotbeds of sporadic unrest that dies out when the struggle becomes too exhausting.
Higher education institutions, where so many people discover their dreams, will eventually run out of steam as well. So, what now? Where will the skilled labour force this country requires come from?
In response to US President Joe Biden’s recent announcement that his administration would begin clearing student debt, renowned US economist Joseph Stiglitz stated that the level of distress caused by this burden is harmful to the economy.
Stiglitz believes that expanding the labour force and assisting people in finding jobs that are better suited to their skills is critical, and that a comprehensive student-loan debt-cancellation programme will have a significant economic benefit.
The South African labour force has been decimated. And it is true that graduates are more likely to find work in an economy that favours the skilled.
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