President Jacob Zuma has announced that government will subsidise free higher education for poor and working class students.
He said in a statement on Saturday that the definition of poor and working class students will now refer to “currently enrolled TVET Colleges or university students from South African households with a combined annual income of up to R350 000” by the 2018 academic year.
The Higher Education Minister would revise this amount periodically in consultation with the Finance Minister.
“Having amended the definition of poor and working class students, government will now introduce fully subsidised free higher education and training for poor and working class South African undergraduate students, starting in 2018 with students in their first year of study at our public universities,” Zuma said.
“Students categorised as poor and working class, under the new definition, will be funded and supported through government grants not loans.”
This effectively means that Zuma has overruled the recommendations of the Heher Commission into the Feasibility of Fee-Free Higher Education and Training.
Zuma’s announcement comes on the day the ANC’s watershed 54th elective conference is expected to begin. A new leader of the party will be elected at the conference.
The Heher Commission had previously found that there is currently no capacity for the state to provide free tertiary education to all students.
The report recommended that undergraduate and postgraduate students studying at both public and private universities and colleges, regardless of their family background, should be funded through a cost-sharing model of government guaranteed “Income-Contingency Loans”, sourced from commercial banks.
The commission recommended that, through the model, commercial banks would issue government guaranteed loans to students.
Zuma released the Heher Commission report in November following media reports that he was preparing to announce a plan to introduce free tertiary education, which Morris Masutha, the apparent ex-boyfriend of his daughter, had allegedly devised.
Funding of post school education and training
In Saturday’s statement Zuma announced that education was an apex priority for government’s pro-poor policies, and committed to increase subsidies to universities from 0.68% to 1% of the GDP over the next five years, as recommended by the Heher Commission.
He said this was in line with comparable economies, in order to address the overall gross underfunding of the sector.
“This will be done in order to kick-start a skills revolution towards and in pursuit of the radical socio-economic transformation programme as outlined during the 2017 State of the Nation Address,” he said.
Public TVET Colleges
Zuma said that the provision of fully subsidised free education and training would be extended to all current and future poor and working class South African students at all public TVET (Technical Vocational Education and Training) colleges starting in 2018 and would be phased-in over a period of five years.
“All poor and working class South African students enrolled at public TVET Colleges will be funded through grants not loans,” he said.
Zuma said the full cost of study would include tuition fee, prescribed study material, meals, accommodation and/or transport.
He said government would further invest in the training and development of existing TVET staff as well as the recruitment of additional qualified staff to improve the quality of teaching and learning at TVET Colleges.
“Funds will also be directed towards the improvement of infrastructure in the TVET sector,” he said.
Zuma said National Student Financial Aid Scheme packages already allocated to existing NSFAS students in their further years of study will be converted from loans to 100% grants effective immediately.
He said this policy intervention would enable government to extend fully subsidized free higher education to youth from well over 90% of South African households.
Zuma said the matter of historic NSFAS debt, due to its complexity, would be dealt with by the Minister of Higher Education after due diligence has been undertaken by that department, the department of planning, monitoring and evaluation and the National Treasury to determine the quantum of funding required.
Zuma said the construction of new student accommodation and refurbishment of old student housing at both universities and TVET colleges would be given urgent attention, with priority given to historically disadvantaged institutions.