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ZAR57 billion set aside for free higher education in South Africa

Government will spend ZAR57 billion on free higher education over the next three years.

Tabling the 2018 Budget in Parliament, South African Finance Minister Gigaba says there was a reallocation in the spending framework.

“The largest reallocation of resources towards government’s priorities was on higher education and training, amounting to additional funding of ZAR57 billion over the medium term.

As a result, this is the fastest-growing spending category, with an annual average growth of 13.7%,” said the Minister.

The announcement comes as former President Jacob Zuma in December 2017 announced the introduction of free higher education for the poor.

Gigaba says government is proud to implement steps that will lead to guaranteed access to higher education and training for all South Africans who qualify based on merit, not class position.

Government will phase in fee-free higher education and training to students from poor and working-class families.

This means that all new first-year students with a family income below ZAR350 000 per annum at universities and TVET colleges in the 2018 academic year will be funded for the full cost of study. This then will be rolled out in subsequent years until all years of study are covered.

Meanwhile, returning National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) students at university will have their loans for 2018 onwards converted to a bursary.

“This is an important step forward in breaking the cycle of poverty and confronting youth unemployment, as labour statistics show that unemployment is lowest for tertiary graduates.”

Higher and further education and training is being made accessible to the children of workers and the poor,” says Gigaba.

Delivering his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) last Friday, President Cyril Ramaphosa said Minister Gigaba would give further details of free higher education in terms of its financing.

President Ramaphosa said the investment in higher education is expected to contribute to greater economic growth, the reduction of poverty and inequality while also enhancing earnings and increasing the competitiveness of the economy.

University subsidies

Subsidies to universities will increase by ZAR11.3 billion over the MTEF period.

This amount covers an 8% increase in tuition fees for students from families with household incomes of between ZAR350 000 and ZAR600 000 a year.

“Qualifying students will pay the tuition fee set in 2015, because government has absorbed the increases for the 2016, 2017 and 2018 academic years. The subsidy amount includes a general increase to cover university operating costs,” according to the Budget Review.

Higher subsidies for TVET colleges will cover 80% of the cost of providing programmes by 2022/23, from the current level of 54% of total programme cost.

Baseline funding of ZAR4.4 billion for TVET infrastructure over the medium term will support refurbishment of existing campuses, and the purchase of workshop equipment and maintenance.

Meanwhile, policy decisions concerning issues such as historic debt, adjustment of the family income threshold, interventions to decrease dropout rates and the construction of student housing will be taken in due course. These decisions could raise the cost of the programme significantly, it noted.

The 2018 Budget has allocated ZAR351.1 billion for learning and culture.

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