Free higher education for all poor students within five years‚ says Zuma

16 December 2017 - 09:43
By Timeslive
Students from households with a combined annual income of R350‚000 or less will have their TVET college or university studies fully subsidised.
Image: Gallo Images/iStockphoto Students from households with a combined annual income of R350‚000 or less will have their TVET college or university studies fully subsidised.

Free higher education for poor and working-class students will be introduced for first-year students in 2018 and fully phased in over five years‚ President Jacob Zuma announced on Saturday.

Zuma has revised the definition of poor and working-class students to “currently enrolled TVET (technical and vocational education and training) colleges or university students from South African households with a combined annual income of up to R350‚000”.

He said the government would introduce fully subsidised free higher education and training for these students‚ starting in 2018 with students in their first year of study at public universities.

"Students categorised as poor and working class‚ under the new definition‚ will be funded and supported through government grants not loans‚" he 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."

Zuma added: "In order to achieve its intended targets of access and success‚ fully subsidised full cost of study will include tuition fees‚ prescribed study material‚ meals‚ accommodation and/or transport.

"This policy intervention will enable the government to extend fully subsidised free higher education to youth from well over 90% of South African households."

The president said 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 colleges starting in 2018 and phased in over five years.

"All poor and working class South African students enrolled at public TVET colleges will be funded through grants, not loans."

In addition‚ funds will also be directed towards the improvement of infrastructure in the TVET sector.

"The government will further invest in the training and development of existing TVET staff and the recruitment of additional qualified staff to improve the quality of teaching and learning at TVET colleges. Middle-class South Africans also get a break.

University subsidy increase

"The government will increase subsidies to universities from 0.68% to 1% of gross domestic product over the next five years, as recommended by the Heher Commission and in line with comparable economies, in order to address the overall gross underfunding of the sector‚" Zuma said.

The impact of the subsidy increase to universities is that there will be no tuition fee increment for students from households earning up to R600‚000 a year during the 2018 academic year.

The announcements follow the #FeesMustFall protests that led to the president setting up the Heher Commission of Inquiry into the feasibility of free education and the viability of the government financing student tuition.

"The post-school education and training (PSET) sector challenges present one of the most urgent threats to the achievability of the targets set out in the National Development Plan‚ particularly the alleviation of race‚ gender and class-based inequality‚ poverty and unemployment," said Zuma.

"The youth require access to opportunities in the PSET sector to ensure their effective participation in the economy and to facilitate our nation’s collective social mobility. As students raised their legitimate concerns about inequalities in access and success in higher education‚ it became clear that urgent and decisive government intervention was necessary to find a sustainable solution.

He added: "Deep levels of income inequality remain entrenched in our country and decisive measures need to be put in place in order to disrupt the vicious cycle of poverty‚ unemployment and inequality ... It is only when higher education and training is accessible to our youth that our country can abruptly disrupt this vicious cycle.

"Over 70% of South African households earn below the taxable income. A significant number of working South Africans continue to earn below the minimum wage.

"Given our history and the current socioeconomic reality of our country‚ an equitable and sustainable solution to the higher education funding challenge is only achievable when higher education is viewed through the lens of the Freedom Charter and in terms of the government’s developmental agenda."

Looking ahead‚ Zuma wants TVET colleges to be improved and said the government would keep investigating the viability of “online and blended learning”.

He explained: "The minister of higher education and training will also need to form partnerships with business‚ other relevant government agencies and stakeholders within the higher education sector to reposition and rebrand TVET colleges as world-class and state-of-the-art facilities that produce the skills that the country needs.

"The curricula of TVET colleges must be improved‚ reviewed and refocused so they can make a much-needed contribution to the fight against the current skills deficit that the country is facing.

"Low graduation rates and high dropout rates at all TVET colleges and universities will be given urgent attention by all higher education and training stakeholders."