Publication date: October 20, 2016

The #FeesMustFall movement, while frustrating those who just want to get back to studying, makes a valid point, which we ignore at our peril. It is that, for the future of our country, we should give all capable students an equal opportunity to learn skills that enable them to think, work and grow the economy for all of us. Economic empowerment, in the long run, can only be achieved through educational empowerment. 

So how do we pay for it? B-BBEE, with it's confusing and constantly changing compliance requirements, is not working. It has spawned expensive consultancies, rating agencies, inefficient and costly setas and a raft of empowerment ownership deals, many of which fail to deliver real and lasting value to their historically disadvantaged beneficiaries.

360 Degrees is a Qualifying Small Enterprise, employing less than twenty full time staff. The annual cost of achieving a good B-BBEE rating includes paying a consultancy to help achieve compliance and an audit firm to do the annual audit. The cost of these two elements alone would pay the academic fees for at least two university students. The additional cost of achieving compliance would fund several more. 

For example, the skills development spend target in the revised codes for QSEs like ours, is 3% of pay roll. For larger companies the target is 6%. In order to achieve compliance, many companies rush to send their (already gainfully employed) staff on expensive training courses that they often don't need.

So what is the solution? Abolish the setas. Divert the skills development levy to tertiary education funding. Do away with the codes and the complicated categories and the cost of BBBEE audits. Make BBBEE ratings all about how much you donate to tertiary education, with a minimum compliance level and better ratings for further contributions. Give tax breaks for companies with higher ratings. 

Let those who can afford it, pay for their university. Fund only deserving students who can't afford it. 

Finally, don't make it about race. Make it about equal opportunity. We are all South Africans, albeit some more historically privileged. In 2016, a hard-working South African student, who is without the funds to realize his or her potential, should be assisted regardless of skin colour. That would be real and lasting broad-based empowerment. 

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