President Jacob Zuma has announced that government will 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 public universities.
This will be done in a phased-in approach over a period of five years.
“This policy intervention will enable the government to extend fully subsidised free higher education to youth from well over 90% of South African households.
“From 2018 onwards, eligible South African children of the unemployed, social grant recipients, South Africans earning below the minimum wage, domestic workers, farm workers, mine workers and entry-level civil servants such as teachers, nurses, policemen, municipal workers, security guards, refuse collectors and informal traders, amongst others, will now access public universities and TVET colleges for free through grants provided by government,” said President Zuma in a statement issued on Saturday.
The President also announced that there will be no tuition fee increment for students from households earning up to R600 000 a year during the 2018 academic year.
National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) packages already allocated to existing NSFAS students in their further years of study will be converted from loans to 100% grants, effective immediately.
The definition of poor and working-class students will now refer to “currently enrolled Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) college or university students from South African households with a combined annual income of up to R350 000” by the 2018 academic year.
“The Minister of Higher Education and Training shall revise this quantum periodically in consultation with the Minister of Finance,” said President Zuma.
The subsidised full cost of the study will include tuition fees, prescribed study material, meals, accommodation and/or transport.
President Zuma made this announcement after he released the report of the Commission of Inquiry into the feasibility of making higher education and training fee-free in South Africa in November.
The President on Saturday said he made his decision after having considered all the reports and the state of universities and TVET colleges, in consultation with the relevant departments, the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Higher Education and Training and the Presidential Fiscal Committee.
“We reaffirm that education remains an apex priority of government’s pro-poor policies and a central pillar of our fight against the socio-economic legacy of apartheid and colonialism and its resultant triple challenge of race, gender and class-based poverty, inequality and unemployment as outlined in the National Development Plan.
“Failure to accelerate equitable access and success in higher education and training directly threatens the achievability of this key objective and everything we have built thus far,” said the President.
As a result, government will increase subsidies to universities from 0.68% to 1% of the gross domestic product (GDP) 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.
“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,” said President Zuma.
What the decision means
Public TVET colleges
The provision of fully subsidised free education and training will 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 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.
For TVET colleges, the full cost of the study will include tuition fee, prescribed study material, meals, accommodation and/or transport.
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.
Funds will also be directed towards the improvement of infrastructure in the TVET sector.
President Zuma said the Minister of Higher Education and Training will need to form partnerships with business, the relevant government agencies and stakeholders within the higher education sector to reposition and rebrand TVET colleges into 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 that it can make the much-needed contribution in 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.
“The immediate implementation of free higher education for poor and working class South African youth is part of government’s Radical Socio-Economic Transformation programme aimed at safeguarding the future of our country in pursuit of the goals of our National Development Plan, as outlined during this year’s State of the Nation Address,” said President Zuma.
As a result of the increase in subsidy to universities, there will be no tuition fee increment for students from households earning up to R600 000 a year during the 2018 academic year.
NSFAS packages already allocated to existing NSFAS students in their further years of study will be converted from loans to 100% grants, effective immediately.
“Noting our nation’s staggering levels of income inequality and considering the definition of poor and working-class students that has remained stagnant and outdated, despite the escalating cost of living and studying — and in order to maximise the developmental impact of our pro-poor higher education policies — the definition of poor and working-class students will now refer to ‘currently enrolled TVET college or university students from South African households with a combined annual income of up to R350 00’ by [the] 2018 academic year.
“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.
“Students categorised as poor and working class, under the new definition, will be funded and supported through government grants, not loans,” said President Zuma.
In order to achieve the targets of access and success, the subsidised full cost of study will include tuition fees, prescribed study material, meals, accommodation and/or transport.
President Zuma said the matter in relation to the management of NSFAS debt, due to its complexity, will be dealt with by the Minister of Higher Education and Training after due diligence has been undertaken by the Department of Higher Education and Training; Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation and National Treasury to determine the quantum of funding required.
Grants for poor and working-class South African students at universities and TVET colleges will continue to be managed and administered by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme through their recently completed student centered-model.
The building of new student accommodation and refurbishment of old student housing at both universities and TVET colleges will be given urgent attention, with priority given to historically disadvantaged institutions.
Online and blended learning
Government will further investigate the viability of online and blended learning as an additional mechanism to deal with capacity challenges across the PSET sector.
On 14 January 2016, President Zuma established a commission of inquiry into higher education and training in order to best inform government’s decision-making process for a sustainable solution to the ongoing higher education and training challenges.
The commission was chaired by Justice Jonathan Arthur Heher, assisted by Advocate Gregory Aly and Leah Khumalo.
On 23 October 2015, President Zuma had met with university student leaders, vice chancellors, chairpersons of university councils and representatives of various youth organisations to discuss challenges facing the higher education and training sector.
The challenges raised by student leaders and other stakeholders were largely centred on, but not limited to, the overall underfunding of the higher education and training sector; the underfunding and administrative inefficiencies of the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS); lack of adequate student accommodation; hunger on campus, and what students called a hostile and untransformed institutional culture at universities.
President Zuma thanked the Heher commissioners and all stakeholders who participated and contributed to the “solution-seeking process”. – SAnews.gov.za