Higher education dept on fee-free education: So far, so good | Fin24
 
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Higher education dept on fee-free education: So far, so good

Jan 27 2019 10:56
Khulekani Magubane, Fin24

The Department of Higher Education and Training says it has been leveraging the R57bn it received from national budget last year to help the poorest university students gain access to higher education at no direct or immediate cost to them.

The department has come under scrutiny since former president Jacob Zuma announced in December 2017 that poor and middle-class households will be given access to free higher education, about two months before he resigned to make way for President Cyril Ramaphosa.

In part, the commitment to fee-free higher education is a response to pressure placed on government by student movements, which gained momentum from their call for an end to the escalation of university fees - and may serve as a hot potato for the Ramaphosa administration.

When Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni tables his first budget speech in Parliament in February, much attention will likely be paid to any provisions he makes for higher education and the gradual provision of fee free education.

Higher Education and Training spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele told Fin24 that the R57bn gave the department the capacity to support students from poor and working-class backgrounds.

"The money for fee-free education is for the poor and working class. It was to take care of the announcement made by Zuma in 2017. [It applies to] all students from poor and working-class environment for a combined [household] income of R350 000 annually.

"Those who were already getting NSFAS before also needed to be taken care of. Before, we used to have various categories.

"If you were afforded NSFAS and met all the requirements, it means they will support you until you get your bursary or qualification," Ngqengelele told Fin24.

Ngqengelele said the department would continue assisting those coming from households earning less than R350 000 annually, if they passed and qualified.

He added that those coming from households earning less that R600 000 and who were under loans, who passed all their subjects, would have their loan converted to a bursary. The process would continue until the student finished the undergraduate module, he said.

"Over 400 000 had applied last year to be funded this year. NSFAS announced over 300 000 had already [been] considered for registration and others still needed to complete applications. A number of them got funding but others who have not qualified are still appealing," Ngqengelele said.

He would not make any definitive comments, one way or the other, about the sustainability of a fee-free education system in the long term.

"With education, you get an allocation and you have to work on it in terms of your needs. TVET colleges are lagging behind and need to be brought forward in terms of infrastructure. We don’t have enough universities, so we can never say what number could be enough. We just use what we have effectively and efficiently," he said.

He said the department was in a far better position than it had been last year.

"It’s almost months through the registration and we have not had any major hiccups. That points to a system that is working and we are grateful for the way that things are turning out currently," he said.

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