Despite calls from university students for fee-free higher education to be implemented “now”, the ANC policy conference is unlikely to conclude with a resolution favouring the students.
In its discussion documents ahead of the policy conference, the sub-committee on education, health and science states: “A new financial-support model to ensure that academically capable poor, working-class and middle-strata students are supported to access higher education must be finalised and fully implemented by 2020.”
But ANC Youth League president Collen Maine insisted the league would push for the implementation of fee-free higher education by 2018.
Student calls for free higher education reached a crescendo with the emergence of the #FeesMustFall movement over the past two years, evidenced by thousands marching to the Union Buildings in 2015.
Following the march, President Jacob Zuma announced a 0% fee increase for the 2016 academic year.
Last September Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande announced that institutions of higher learning, including universities caught up in the maelstrom surrounding the cost of higher education, could increase their fees for the current year but cap them at 8%.
He further said that students who came from families who earn R50 000 or less a month would not have to pay a fee increase.
This infuriated students who again protested, resulting in campuses being shut down, with some institutions postponing assessments to the beginning of this year.
Speaking at the opening of the conference yesterday, Zuma acknowledged the resolution of the 2007 Polokwane conference, which resolved that fee-free higher edu- cation for the poor must be implemented up until undergraduate level. He noted the 2012 Mangaung conference also emphasised this.
He said the policy conference “will provide robust discussions of the possibilities for providing quality, affordable higher education to as many South Africans as possible, and free education for the poor”.
He added that the conference was taking place while the report of the presidential commission into the feasibility of fee-free higher education was still outstanding.
Zuma set up the commission headed by Judge Jonathan Heher in January 2016, with a deadline of June 30 2017.
But spokesperson for the commission Musa Ndwandwe said the commission was only expected to conclude its work yesterday, and after that Heher has two months to compile the report and then hand it to the president.
“He can hand it over next week or anytime before the expiry of these two months, starting from the last day of June,” said Ndwandwe.
Student activists have long ago dismissed the Heher commission as another talkshop that will not come up with any solutions to their challenges.
Maine told the Mail & Guardian on the sidelines of the conference yesterday that the league would persuade the conference to agree on the implementation of fee-free higher education for the poor and working class next year.
“We would have failed as the youth league if we can’t come out with that resolution,” said Maine.
He said the youth league supports the call by students to implement fee-free higher education “now”.
“We want free education from next year. That is the call we are going to make to this conference … We know that people might want to raise the issues of our current economic situation, but we will still pursue in saying that government must reprioritise, and the ANC has always said that education is its apex priority so that must be seen in action, and we must reprioritise and budget for the implementation of free higher education for the poor and the children of the working class,” he said.