Wednesday, October 28, 2015

South African Government Has Plans for Free Education for Poor But Hamstrung by Lack of Funds, Says Nzimande
Oct 28, 2015 | Bekezela Phakathi

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande says government policy is there should be free higher education for poor, not for everyone

THE government has plans to provide free higher education for the poor, but it is hamstrung by the lack of financial resources, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said on Wednesday.

"A plan without funds is sterile," Mr Nzimande told MPs during a briefing in Parliament on Wednesday.

Mr Nzimande said government policy is that there should be free higher education for the poor, not for everyone.

"The country cannot afford free education for everyone ... wealthy students must pay because they have an economic advantage. If there is money free higher education will be feasible," said Mr Nzimande.

Mr Nzimande briefed the higher education and training portfolio committee on his department’s intervention plan to address student protests over university fees.

Chaotic scenes played out on campuses across the country recently as students protested over proposed fee hikes for 2015 and called for a moratorium on increases, as well as demanded free higher education.

Following days of intense protests, President Jacob Zuma on Friday announced that tuition fees would not increase in 2016. Universities now face a shortfall of about R3bn and the government is expected to provide details on Thursday on how the funding gap will be plugged.

Mr Nzimande said that it would be difficult for SA to implement free education because of its "system". He said Cuba, for example, had managed to introduce free education because it is a socialist state.

"Unfortunately we are not a socialist state ... most capitalist countries cannot fund free higher education because of the nature of their system," Mr Nzimande said.

The government needed money to implement free higher education, said Mr Nzimande, adding that about R37bn was required over the medium-term expenditure framework to fully fund all poor students.

"At the moment we are funding 16% of all undergraduates through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). The indication is that 25.5% of students qualify for NSFAS," said the minister.

"The ideal scenario is that we increase the percentage of students we fund and (do so) at full cost ... We will need R37bn over the medium-term expenditure framework in 2011 rand value, which means this figure is higher now," said Mr Nzimande.

During a snap debate in Parliament on Tuesday Mr Nzimande suggested that the rich should be taxed to fund higher education.

Mr Zuma reportedly said on Tuesday that free university education is possible.

"It’s possible, but … you (cannot) do (it) overnight," the president was quoted as saying.

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