/ 4 January 2018

Free Higher education still on the cards, but only for first-year students

Accountable: The home affairs spokesperson has defended Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize
Accountable: The home affairs spokesperson has defended Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize

Free higher education will still be rolled out at the beginning of the 2018 academic year, but it will not be made available to all students just yet.

This was the announcement made by Higher Education Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize in Pretoria on Thursday, where she announced that only new, first-year entrants to the higher education system will benefit from government’s new policy.

Instead of providing free education to all qualifying students, government has taken a decision to gradually phase in the process over a 5-year period.

The income threshold for qualifying students will also be increased from a joint household income of R122 000 to R350 000 to accommodate missing middle students.

“This entails providing full bursaries for tuition and study material to qualifying poor and working-class South African students at both public TVET colleges and universities and subsidising accommodation and transport, capped at specific levels for those who qualify, starting with the first time entrants in 2018 and phased in over a period of 5 years,” Mkhize said.

Mkhize said the decision to take a measured approach was to ensure sustainability of government’s plans to provide free higher education, in light of a difficult economic climate.

“Changes to the post-school and education training system will be undertaken in a fiscally sustainable manner. This means rolling out reforms at a measured pace and reprioritising funding within existing budgets,” she said.

Her measured approach is in stark contrast to the bold position taken by President Jacob Zuma, who in his original announcement on free education implied that all students would benefit immediately from the policy.

In the surprise statement issued on the first day of the ANC’s 54th national elective conference in December, Zuma said, in addition to providing free tuition for first-year students, those with existing National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) loans would have them converted into full grants “with immediate effect”.

Mkhize gave assurance that the plan to introduce free education would not interfere with university admissions processes and that eligible students would need to be in possession of university acceptance letters to qualify for grants.

Meanwhile, the Economic Freedom Fighters Students Command (EFFSC) launched its Sizofunda nge Nkani campaign (we will learn by force), which encouraged prospective students at all levels to head to their preferred tertiary institutions on Friday to take advantage of government’s free education plans.

Despite numerous institutions stating that they will not be accepting any walk-in applications, the EFFSC has urged prospective students to arrive anyway, promising to help them through the registration process.

“We are saying everyone must report to an institution that is close to them or that they want with their matric certificate and get there and look for fighters (EFF members), they are going to get assistance,” said EFFSC president Peter Keetse.

“When we speak about walk-ins we really mean it and we mean we must all enter. If I want to do engineering, I must come to the department of engineering. It ends there. And I must be accepted or rejected there. I’m not going to stand at the gate. No-one is going to stand at the gate.”