Tertiary fee pledges a step towards free education

Neither the ANC nor the government has any time frame in mind for the implementation of the goal of free education up to the completion of undergraduate level reiterated by President Jacob Zuma during the party’s birthday celebrations in Polokwane last weekend.

Zuma announced two major initiatives seen as significant steps towards the overriding ANC policy of free education for all.

He said final-year university students who qualified for funding from the state’s National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) would receive loans equivalent to the full cost of study and these loans would be converted into bursaries for those who graduated at the end of the year. Also this year students at the further education and training (FET) colleges who qualify for financial aid will be exempt from paying fees, he said.

But ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu told the Mail & Guardian on Thursday: “We can’t mention a year when the entire education system will be free. When we get [to first-year level], the question to ask will be how to implement what the Freedom Charter envisaged, which is free and compulsory education.”

Qwebs Qonde, the acting director general of higher education and training, and Granville Whittle, the spokesperson for the basic education department, confirmed the commitment to reach free education for all, but said no time frames were in place.

“It is difficult to say at this point when all schools will be no-fee schools,” Whittle said. Sixty percent of state schools are now no-fee.

Stages in the move towards free education since 1994 include the 1996 Schools Act’s provision for exemption from school fees, national implementation of the no-fee schools policy in 2007 and NSFAS financing for study at FET colleges in the same year.

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