Higher education minister, Hlengiwe Mkhize, has clarified that the promise of “free higher education” is a long-term proposition and will not be implemented immediately.
Mkhize, who was addressing members of the media on Thursday as to the 2018 registration process, said that this means that only applicants who have received a firm offer from a university or TVET college will qualify for funding.
Instead the free higher education plan, which was given the go ahead by president Jacob Zuma in December, would be phased in over the next five years. She indicated that this process would also not interfere with the autonomy of the country’s colleges and universities.
As a result, any students who applied for a firm offer but who have not applied for Nsfas funding will be helped.
“Government would like to assure South Africans that all applicants in possession of a firm offer from a university or TVET college will be assessed for funding using the revised criteria,” she said.
The minister also condemned recent comments by Julius Malema calling for any matriculants who passed well, to show up at a university of their choice to be registered. She reiterated comments made by the Universities South Africa which stated that it will not be accepting any “walk-in” applicants in 2018.
On 16 December, a day before the start of the ANC’s elective conference, president Jacob Zuma announced that government will subsidise free higher education for poor and working class students.
Under the new plan the definition of poor and working class students would 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 the 2018 academic year.
“Having amended the definition of poor and working class students, government will 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 our public universities,” Zuma said.
“Students categorised as poor and working class, under the new definition, will be funded and supported through government grants not loans.”
The president’s announcement effectively means that he overruled the recommendations by the Heher Commission into the ‘Feasibility of Fee-Free Higher Education and Training’ released earlier in December.