‘Maybe we have been doing it all wrong. Maybe we have totally lost the plot and gone off in the wrong direction,’ writes Mvelo Hlophe, a student from the University of Cape Town (UCT). He won the 2016 Student Leadership Summit for his insightful and solution-driven #Feesmustfall essay

Twenty-two years post Apartheid, people are still angry; people still feel like their basic rights are not being met, and with the political climate looking ever so ghastly in our nation there is little to go on when speaking of hope.

The product has been nothing less than turmoil, with students receiving the short end of the stick. Uncertainty over fee increments has caused much discord, making one believe it will get quite worse before it gets better. Student tears are met with blind eyes. Student cries are met with deaf ears. How then are we able to cry foul when students stir up a catch-22 situation all summarised under a hashtag fighting to be heard?

For the longest time, the current economic condition that we as a nation find ourselves in has had a hand in the delicate situation we are dealing with. It has grown difficult to fund all of the students who make it into university, causing much frustration for most. We have bright young students with the potential to change the world being financially excluded from universities for lack of funding. We have students passing with 8 A’s in matric and not being able to go to university because of the financial situation at home. The severe inequality gap in South Africa caused by Apartheid still affects many students today.

With the rand weakening and inflation rising it is no wonder government has appeared to be failing its hardworking children by not providing them with much-needed tertiary education. Given these pressures placed on the national budget, can we really afford to compromise on our future leaders of industries? The current allocation for student funding is lacking. That is no secret. We have witnessed the shortcomings of this in the year 2015. #FeesMustFall was birthed out of student anger. Funding has simply not covered all the students that need it. The famous missing middle class is most affected by the funding or rather lack thereof.

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) pays out millions of rands annually in university student loans. However, not everyone can access this fund, the biggest reason being not meeting the financial needs criteria. As a result, thousands of students who do not tick the boxes of being ‘in financial need’ or being ‘previously disadvantaged’ are unable to reap the benefits of this fund. Again the missing middle class is highlighted – too rich for financial aid but too poor to pay for university. Living in South Africa as a student faced with imminent financial exclusion one tends to think of alternate ways to funding. One tends to see the fault in the way funding is done for university students.

Has anyone every stopped to question the financing model of NSFAS? Why are they solely focused on university students? In fact, why are they focused on university students at all? With so much money being spent annually on tertiary education by such an organisation we need to stop and gauge its success rate, all the while considering spending it differently. NSFAS is also not the only player in the tertiary funding niche. Corporates such as Alan Gray, Old Mutual, Sasol – you name it – all have the capacity to change the way they fund their bursaries. Hence a new model which will and should guarantee a greater success story. Imagine if the hundreds of scholarships and bursaries that fund tertiary education stopped funding just that. Instead they spent their money on school children where from primary school a child’s school fees is covered by the very same private or government organisations. From primary school all the way to matric. No matter what school. One year’s tuition and residence fees at an institution like UCT can cover up to 10 students at an average-fee high school for a year or a single student all through high school twice over.

Nevertheless, the students’ parents will still be required to pay their child’s school fees but instead of this money going to the school, it is saved at a compounded interest rate, invested in stocks or even bonds to accumulate over time all the years that the student is in school for. Much like insurance or a pension fund. After the child graduates, there is more than enough money to cover their own tertiary education and another learner’s. The beauty of this is that children that go to schools like Michael House or Hilton College can essentially fund those students that go to free schools. This shared pool of grown wealth will make tertiary education free and accessible to all who apply and get accepted into university.

An extension to this will be to allow parents to pay a percentage of the school fees that they are currently expecting to pay at a school, say below 50%. With the same growth rate applied sufficient money could still be generated if all parents paying schools contributed. What this allows is children will now be able to go to a school which was once out of their parent’s financial capacity. They would now be able to go to their school of choice. Added to this there would be lower dropout rates due to financial problems at home in high school and the traditionally expensive private schools can have more children passing through them and receiving the best possible education. All in all more children would finish high school and more children will enter university and be able to stay. Making graduation a reality.

To deal with any problem successfully, looking to fix it right where it is happening never worked but targeting the root always ensured attainment. The outbreak of #FeesMustFall was a necessary part of the history of South Africa. Free tertiary education is something that is achievable. But it requires that we break away from the norm.

We have seen the students’ tears. We have heard the students’ cries. Now is the time to react to what they plead from us and make the hashtag stand.