While welcoming Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba’s announcement on Wednesday of a R57-billion budget allocation to phase in the government’s fee-free education plan‚ student leaders say they still have other concerns.
South African Union of Students president Avela Mjajubana said they welcome the initiative‚ but this did not solve Fees Must Fall as there was no mention about fee increments.
“We are going to make an appeal to the minister as we feel infrastructure at TVET (Technical Vocational Education and Training) institutions is not prioritised. Student accommodation should also be a priority when allocating budget‚ not just fees.
“Though NSFAS [National Student Financial Aid Scheme] students will be catered for‚ we are not satisfied that there was no mention of a resolution on fee increments‚” Mjajubana said.
The minister was under pressure to find new money to fund the free tertiary education that was introduced by former president Jacob Zuma in December last year.
Zuma said students from households with a combined annual income of R350‚000 or less would have their TVET college or university studies fully subsidised for first-years in 2018 and fully phased in over five years.
There would also be “no tuition fee increment for students from households earning up to R600‚000 a year during the 2018 academic year”‚ Zuma said in his announcement.
Mangaliso Sambo‚ national spokesperson for the Economic Freedom Fighter Student Command‚echoed Mjajubana’s sentiments.
“Something must be done about the lack of accommodation in universities. Many students do not have access to safe accommodations‚ some partly because they have to pay from their own pockets‚” Sambo said.
Sambo suggests that now that the budget has provided some direction‚ institutions should reopen their registrations and applications for prospective students who were rejected due to lack of funds.
“It’s a halfway remedy‚ we are not yet there. He said that the plan will only run for three years‚ but what about the other years? And what about students who are chained by historical debt? We are also sad that the very students who fought for free education are not beneficiaries of this policy‚” said Sambo.
Gigaba said NSFAS funding for returning students would be converted into bursaries.
Meanwhile‚ the civil-rights organisation AfriForum believes that free higher education is doomed to failure‚ reducing the plan to nothing more than “politicking”.
“Government argues that free higher education is aimed at providing poor people with the opportunity to go to university. This while a mere 5% of poor people obtain university exemption as a result of the poor standards of South African schools‚” said Monique Taute‚ national spokesperson for AfriForum.