NEWS

Free Varsity Tuition Call A Vote-Seeking Political Stunt

Free university and technical college tuition sounds good. But who will pay? In a copycat move yesterday, SODELPA MP Viliame Gavoka waved the proverbial “Feel the Bern” flag, a phrase
02 Jun 2016 12:52
Free Varsity Tuition Call A Vote-Seeking Political Stunt
Free Tuition

Free university and technical college tuition sounds good. But who will pay?

In a copycat move yesterday, SODELPA MP Viliame Gavoka waved the proverbial “Feel the Bern” flag, a phrase used about the wave of enthusiasm for Democratic primary candidate Bernie Sanders in the United States Presidential elections. Mr Sanders promised the young people that they will not have to pay fees to enroll at universities if he becomes President. His poll ratings shot up after that.

In New Zealand, Labour Party leader Andrew Little promised free tertiary education in a “Live the Kiwi Dream” package to reverse the party’s sagging ratings at the polls. And it seems to be resonating well with the people especially the young generation.

Mr Gavoka has jumped on the bandwagon to try to do one better than the FijiFirst Government in the education battlefront. FijiFirst Government has introduced free education from kindergarten, primary to secondary schools and free bus fares.

No doubt Mr Gavoka’s petition in Parliament which was later rejected would have resonated well with the young people as it did with Mr Sanders and Mr Little.

But New Zealand and Australia which used to have free tertiary education during the post-war period after the Second World War realised that it was not sustainable. In NZ it was the Labour Government that introduced fees in 1990.  Around the same time in Australia, it was Bob Hawke’s Labor Government which realised that Gough Whitlam’s legacy of free education could not continue because it was not viable financially.

Learning from the experience of our neighbours who have bigger economies than us, we simply cannot afford it.

This was more of a vote-seeking political stunt in a desperate bid to shore up support  for SODELPA which is struggling right now in the poll ratings.

Let’s look at our Education budget.

The total budget allocation for the Education Sector inclusive of scholarships and Grants to Higher Education institutes amounts to $561,333,100; which is about 16.44 per cent of the total Budget for the whole of Government. The Higher Education institutes comprise the University of the South Pacific, Fiji National University, University of Fiji, Corpus Christi, Fulton College, Monfort Boys Town, Sangam Institute of Technology Vivekananda Technical Centre.

Free education or tuition for tertiary students will present a number of problems. They include:

Working out entry standards and qualification points

Open entries or quota systems

Graduates moving overseas to look for employment instead of working here

Taxpayers will have to pay more to sustain the free education or

Something will have to go from the Budget to cater for increased costs

It’s obvious that Mr Gavoka has been closely following Mr  Sanders’ progress in the US Presidential Elections and it’s given him an inspiration.

The reality is we simply cannot afford it.  Edited by Naisa Koroi

Feedback: nemani.delaibatiki@fijisun.com.fj

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