President Jacob Zuma File picture: Nic Bothma/EPA

Government will extend fully subsidised free higher education to "poor and working class" youth from 2018, the presidency said on Saturday.

Government would increase subsidies to universities from 0.68 percent to one percent of GDP, in line with comparable economies, over the next five years as recommended by the Heher Commission of Inquiry into higher education and training, the presidency said in a statement responding to the commission’s recommendations.

Regarding public universities, "as a result of this substantial increase in subsidy to universities there will be no tuition fee increment for students from households earning up to R600 000 a year during the 2018 academic year", the presidency said 

"Noting our nation’s staggering levels of income inequality and considering the definition of poor and working class students that has remained stagnant and outdated despite the escalating cost of living and studying, and in order to maximise the developmental impact of our pro-poor higher education policies, the definition of poor and working class students will now refer to 'currently enrolled TVET colleges or university students from South African households with a combined annual income of up to R350 000' by 2018 academic year. The minister of higher education and training shall revise this quantum periodically in consultation with the minister of finance," the statement said.

Having amended the definition of poor and working class students, government would now introduce fully subsidised free higher education and training for poor and working class South African undergraduate students, starting in 2018 with students in their first year of study at public universities. Students categorised as poor and working class, under the new definition, would be funded and supported through government grants, not loans.

The provision of fully subsidised free education and training would be extended to all current and future poor and working class South African students at all public technical vocational education and training (TVET) colleges starting in 2018 and phased-in over a period of five years, the statement said.

"All poor and working class South African students enrolled at public TVET colleges will be funded through grants not loans. For TVET colleges, full cost of study will include tuition fee, prescribed study material, meals, accommodation, and/or transport."

The government would further invest in the training and development of existing TVET staff and the   recruitment of additional qualified staff to improve the quality of teaching and learning at TVET colleges. Funds would also be directed towards the improvement of infrastructure in the TVET sector.

National Student Financial Aid Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) packages already allocated to existing NSFAS students in their further years of study would be converted from loans to 100 percent grants effective immediately.

"This policy intervention will enable government to extend fully subsidised free higher education to youth from well over 90 percent of South African households. Duly, from 2018 onwards, eligible South African children of the unemployed, social grant recipients, South Africans earning below a minimum wage, domestic workers, farm workers, mine workers and entry level civil servants, such as teachers, nurses, policemen, municipal workers, security guards, refuse collectors, and informal traders, among others, will now access public universities and TVET colleges for free through grants provided by their government," the presidency said.

To achieve its intended targets of access and success, fully subsidised full cost of study would include tuition fees, prescribed study material, meals, accommodation, and/or transport.

Grants for poor and working class South African students at universities and TVET colleges would continue to be managed and administered by the NSFAS through their recently completed student centred-model.

Building new student accommodation and refurbishment of old student housing at both universities and TVET colleges would be given urgent attention, with priority given to historically disadvantaged institutions.

Low graduation rates and high dropout rates at all TVET colleges and universities would be given urgent attention by all higher education and training stakeholders.


African News Agency/ANA