The ANC national executive committee’s education and health sub-committee said last Monday that it aims to implement a programme requiring graduates to do a year of community service within the next five years. 

Graduates will be required to participate in the programme regardless of whether their degree was funded privately or by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

The programme replaces the graduate tax which was proposed at the ANC’s Mangaung elective conference last year. Delegates asked that the conference consider taxing people who graduate from institutions of higher education. The money raised from this tax was intended to be used for NSFAS, which would then be able to fund more undergraduate students. The proposal was rejected after public uproar. The committee then proposed that graduates whose degrees were financed by bursaries or loans (including NSFAS) be required to perform a year of community service. This was then expanded to include all graduates.

Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor, who chairs the committee, said that this would allow graduates to gain experience before they enter the job market. She said that graduates should consider how the community service can benefit them instead of only considering it a delay in their career.

Nthabiseng Nooe, an engineering and environmental geology honours student, agrees and said, “Service to others is by far the most important aspect of personal development. Academia places a high emphasis on the individual, which is great because graduates need to be given credit for their work. But what is the real value of your grades?”

Nooe added that, “A year of community service can show graduates the social application of their studies while also raising awareness of potential clients should one work for a corporate later.”

Edward Hall, who is doing his postgraduate certificate in education, told Perdeby on Twitter that the programme could “evolve an elite group of people” who display both mental and intellectual strength. He added that, although there would be a greater gap between skilled and unskilled workers, the development for graduate students would be “great”. Ngeti Zwane, a final-year political science student, tweeted, “Just imagine a mathematics/actuarial [sciences] graduate teaching mathematics or being part of strategic thinkers at municipal level.”

Not all students are excited at the prospect of having to undertake a year of mandatory community service. Some students have expressed concern about how they will finance themselves during this year while others are doubtful as to how efficiently the programme will be enforced and monitored.

Dr Laurel Becker, a senior lecturer from the Faculty of Education, said that, “Very careful planning will be needed if the plan is to be successful. One of the problems that will arise is already evident, in that many students who have bursaries will be unable to do community service as they are bound by the terms of their bursaries to begin working immediately in the company or the organisation that awarded the bursary.”

She added that it would be a good idea to give graduates who are unable to find employment the option of doing a year’s worth of community service in order to gain experience in fields that are relevant to their degrees.

“I am of the opinion that any sweeping decisions will prove to be unrealistic. When graduates find immediate employment, they are able to enter the job market and are then in a position to contribute to the economy in a meaningful way.”

Ntsako Risenga, a final-year LLB student, said that the programme is a good initiative but added, “Unless they are going to fund the expenses incurred in getting the graduates places where they can do [community service], it will be a nightmare to administer and ensure proper and efficient participation.”

In a statement issued on the same day as the ANC’s announcement, AfriForum Youth said that the programme would result in graduates leaving the country to work overseas.

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Illustration: Simon-Kai Garvie

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