The Presidency at midday on Monday released the much anticipated Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Feasibility of Making High Education and Training Fee-free in South Africa. While the report disappointed some groups calling for complete free tertiary education it, however, spoke to the need for increased training funding, with particular attention to the Post School Education and Training Sector (PSET) and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges. The scrapping of both university application and registration fees being the most notable recommendation.
On 14 January 2016, the presidency established a commission of Inquiry into the Higher Education and Training, taking into consideration the feasibility of free education with special regard to the Constitution of South Africa, all necessary higher and tertiary education legislation, and all findings and recommendations of the various task teams established for the purposes of the inquiry into fee-free education.
Key recommendations listed in the fees commission:
- The commission recommended that funding for higher education and training be increased to at least 1 per cent of the GDP; that particular attention be given to TVET colleges and that TVET colleges receive fully subsidized free education.
- With regards to student accommodation, the commission recommended that affordable student accommodation be sought with particular attention given to “Historically Disadvantaged Institutions.”
- The commission recommended that “online and blended learning” be investigated as a means address the funding and capacity concerns within the higher education sector.
- The commission recommended that NRF bursaries for post graduate students be retained.
“The Commission further recommended for postgraduate students to have access to a cost-sharing model of government guaranteed Income-Contingency Loans sourced from commercial banks (ICL).”
- The commission recommended that students who have graduated and have student debt, be afforded income-contingent loans (ICL).
“The Commission recommend that the participation of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) in the funding of university students be replaced by the ICL system.”
- The commission recommended that NSFAS be retained for the provision of the funding of all TVET students and TVET student support if such retention is considered necessary.
- The commission recommends that all tertiary education students be funded by government guaranteed Income-Contingency Loan, which is sourced from commercial banks; The loan recommended to be payable once the student graduates and earns within a specific income threshold. Failing which government bares the liability of payment.
- The commission recommends that both university application and registration fees be removed.
The Commission, which was chaired by Justice Jonathan Arthur Heher, assisted by Advocate Gregory Ally and Leah Khumalo, follows often violent student protests that broke out in 2015 at universities across the country. While student protests previously centred on the concerns of black students, post 2015, students under the auspices of the South African Union of Students (SAUS) called for free, quality, inclusionary and decolonised education in light of a growing discussion on both the administration and curriculum content at the level of tertiary education – exclusion not limited to financial concerns, but extended to academic and emotional concerns. The call was spurred on by the #RhodesMustFall movement, which critically stormed the leadership of former minister of higher education, Blaze Nzimande.
Meanwhile, the South African Student’s Congress (SASCO) in its submission said the “commercialization of higher education…has reversed some of the tactical victories we have made in the post 1994 period.”
SASCO also drew a link between the call for free education and the Freedom Charter, the foundation of the South African Constitution, as well as the “missing middle” – students unable to afford tertiary education.
The congress’s demands included free tuition, accommodation, food, books, other essential study materials or learning resources and travel.
With the zero per cent fee increase in 2016 and either a reduced or no fee increase for 2017, government subsequently prioritised R16.2 billion into university funding and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).
“The NSFAS allocation for historic debt was R2 543 billion; and additional funding for students to continue was R2 039 billion. This resulted in an additional funding allocation of R9,2 billion for NSFAS over the MTEF period,” the report stated.
Despite NSFAS funding having increased, according to the report, government is unable to cover all qualifying students.
“The cost of the 2017 government funding of zero percent for all those from households with an income of less than R600 000 is yet to be determined, as the number of students falling into this category is unknown. It is expected that about 75 per cent of students will need to be covered.”