I was quite shocked with a newspaper table that showed the annual fees of various universities. Shocked, because the fees for UCT were over 3 times that of what it was 15 years ago when I entered university. I can't think of any other good that has had such a large multiplier - in fact 15 years ago, my total costs (food, accommodation, tuition) was less than the current fees.
Mass education is one of the only proven paths to achieving economic growth; and given South Africa's economic situation; it is a no-brainer to enable education for as many people as possible. Complaints of financial exclusion, high fees were prevalent 15 years ago - but it was a low rumble. The fact that the fees have shot up; and nothing has been addressed regarding fees says it all. In this respect, Floyd Shivambu's article on education funding is quite enlightening.
The favourite tactic with the university of non paying students is to deny graduation until the fees are settled. Thus, a graduate with perfectly usable skills is not allowed to actually make use of their degree, to earn the money, to pay their outstanding fees. It's a circle of stupidity.
And the exclusion and its impact is fairly easy to see. In my latter years at UCT, I taught in the SHAWCO community outreach programme. There, some of the brightest kids in Khayalitsha were given free extra lessons - in my case IT. From a base of about 3000 students, there were a total around 90 students that went through this program. Every one of the students I interacted with, expressed a love for maths and science; there was almost no truancy - they were eager to learn. Yet, based on student numbers I have seen since; almost none of them ever made it to university. I doubt that was because they were not good enough - it is highly likely they couldn't afford it. And it is not only the fees - there is food, lodging, transport and off course books and equipment.
There is off course a digital revolution that is also sweeping through education. In the past 9 months; I have completed (or currently taking) courses in finance, astro-physics, law, philosophy, technology and culture via edX. I have paid for one of those course - but the rest have been free. And they have been from some of the top researchers (including a Nobel laureate) and universities such as Harvard, MIT and Cambridge.
Sure, I am not doing these courses for degrees - just because I am interested in the topics themselves. But maybe MOOCs are the platform to get the best teaching out to everyone. Raspberry Pi's make cheap computers; we now have ever improving communication technologies. Perhaps the answer to the fee crisis is to make education in South Africa more available through technology. Instead of bringing students to the campus; take the teaching to the communities.
Perhaps what we really need is a completely different way of thinking on how to educate.