JOHANNESBURG — As the fight for access to higher education in South Africa rages on, Statistics South Africa says the number of students who have completed a bachelor’s degree in 2016 has increased to 1.2 million from 410,686 in 1996.
“The number of graduates among blacks is equal to the number of graduates among whites yet there are 10 times more blacks than whites. The number of [black] graduates, if we were to use whites as a standard, should be 5.4 million, but we only have about 700,000,” said Statistician General Pali Lehohla.
Lehohla released the Community Survey 2016 in Pretoria on Thursday. The survey is conducted between national census and this year’s was conducted between March and April 2016 at 1.3 million households across the country.
“Parents are not able to educate their children because they don’t have the kind of resources required,” he said, calling for a different schooling model to ebsure that those who are younger than 14 now get the education they need.
The release of the data coincided with the deadline for submissions to the commission of inquiry into higher education and training South Africa (the Fees Commission).
Chairperson Judge Jonathan Heher extended the deadline to 30 June after requests for more time to allow in-depth research and consultations for interested parties.
The commission was set up to look into the feasibility of “fee-free higher education and training” in the country. This will result in recommendations, including on policies and financial sustainability.
The battle for free education came to a head in 2015 when University of Witwatersrand students embarked on a protest against a fee increase for 2016.
That quickly spread to universities across the country, with violent protests at institutions including Fort Hare University in the Eastern Cape and North West University.
In a defining moment for the protests, thousands of students marched to parliament to demand a no-fee increase and free education. In unprecedented scenes, students and police clashed in the parliamentary precinct.
Rubber bullets, teargas and stun grenades were fired as thousands of students tried to push their way into the House of Assembly.
Similar scenes played out in Pretoria when thousands of students marched to the Union Buildings.
Fires raged on the lawns as police battled angry crowds of students demanding nothing more than a no-fee increase.
On that day, 23 October 2015, just after 3pm, President Jacob Zuma announced that there would be no increases in university fees for 2016.
He appointed a presidential task team to look at fees and “broader transformation issues affecting higher education”.
The latest data indicates that more people are receiving degrees.
In the 20-year period between 1996 and 2016, the number of people aged 25 to 34 with a bachelor’s degree has doubled from 157,514 to 343,116.
While the number of people in the 55 to 64 age group with a bachelor’s degrees is five times greater, and there are more than double the graduates in the 35 to 44 age group.
Most students across the country have struggled to access higher education due to financial constraints.
Every year students at various universities embark on protests over the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), which seemingly is not able to cover fees for many.
This despite a cash injection from government.
The community survey report also noted “consistently high” enrolment levels in the compulsory education age group of seven to 15 years.
But enrolment figures have declined from the age of 18 upwards. Enrolment for those aged 24 has declined by nearly two-thirds.
And the number of people with no schooling has declined in the last 20 years from 3.7 million in 1996 to 2.3 million in 2016.
The Community Survey report was handed to the Presidency and received by Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe.