Higher Education Minister, Blade Nzimande says that free higher education is not affordable in South Africa.
On Thursday, a number of the country’s leading institutions remain closed as students engage in protest action, standing against proposed increases in fees in 2016, under a campaign: #FeesMustFall.
Nzimande on Tuesday proposed a reduced fee increase to 6% from more than 10%. This offer was rejected by student representatives, who want zero percent, with many calling for education to be free.
On Wednesday, Nzimande said that the department’s decision was final on its offer, despite a march to parliament, by thousands of students.
In an interview with Talk 702, Nzimande said that the aim of government is to provide free education at a tertiary level for poor students – not for everyone. “As a country we cannot afford this for everyone. Those who are wealthy must pay,” he said.
“At least we must be able to assist poor students over the years – like we have done quite impressively, to be honest – in terms of the national student financial aid scheme.”
When asked if government has no money to provide free tertiary education, the minister said: “The situation as it stands now is dire. Unless government decides to reprioritise, but the situation does not look good at all.”
Nzimande said that the government has significantly increased the national student financial aid scheme, from R3 billion in 2009 to R9.5 billion in 2015, “but obviously that is not enough”.
A spokesperson for the minister had previously said that he was in favour of free education. “The minister is in favour of fee-free education, it is ANC policy,” Khaye Nkwanyana said.
“But the reality is that we don’t have the budget for free education due to serious competing social needs in the current fiscus.”
In his medium term budget policy statement on Wednesday, Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene said that without growth, there would be very little new money to allocate.