Government mum on money for free higher education

Higher Education Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize. (Sarel van der Walt, Netwerk)

Cape Town – Where the money will be found for the free higher education, which President Jacob Zuma announced last month, remains a mystery.

Higher Education and Training Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize addressed the media on Thursday morning to provide further detail on Zuma’s “historic announcement for free higher education and training for poor and working-class families”, as she termed it.

Communications Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane chaired the briefing, and Mkhize was flanked by State Security Minister Bongani Bongo, who also serves on the inter-ministerial committee (IMC) on higher education.

They were asked how the decision would be financed and why Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba wasn’t present at the briefing.

Kubayi-Ngubane said Gigaba was one of the ministers who formed part of the IMC members who apologised for not being able to attend the briefing.

Mkhize said there was a due process, in which Gigaba and his team were involved.

“The minister of finance helped us to make a breakthrough,” said Mkhize.

“I’m not giving the exact amount.”

‘Leave the finances to me’

She said Gigaba pleaded with Zuma and his colleagues to leave the finances to him.

When they were asked again about the budget, Kubayi-Ngubane said: “Nothing is being done outside of the budget process.”

She added that all would be explained when Gigaba tables his budget in February.

After Zuma’s announcement on December 16, Gigaba also told journalists he could not provide details at that moment, but that it would be in the budget.

Mkhize said the decision would be phased in over five years.

The threshold to qualify for financial assistance has been raised from R122 000 per household per annum to R350 000.

Full bursaries for tuition and study materials to qualifying South African students will be provided at public TVET colleges and universities, as well as subsidised accommodation or transport, capped at specific levels for those who qualify, starting with students who enter in 2018.

NSFAS packages already allocated to returning or existing students in 2018 will be converted from loans to bursaries, provided that they meet academic progression requirements.

“The phasing in of this policy will ensure the sustainability of government financial resources, whilst simultaneously ensuring that improved access to post-school education and training for students is guaranteed,” said Mkhize.

On the topic of EFF leader Julius Malema’s call that matriculants, who passed well, should show up at universities of their choice to be registered, Mkhize said, if she had her own political party, she would also try to get mileage from the decision.

She reiterated that the decision on free higher education wasn’t made to disrupt the autonomy and functioning of universities.

She encouraged all young people with the required National Senior Certificate qualifications, who are still seeking higher education opportunities, to access her department’s Central Applications Clearing House (CACH) at its website or to call the toll-free number 0800 356 635.

An SMS with a name and ID number can also be sent 49200 or CACH can be found on Facebook here.

Bongo said the State Security Agency was working on a plan with all relevant student organisations to ensure that registration wasn’t disrupted.

“The plan that we have, we’re not giving any detail,” he said.

“Issues of higher education are issues of state security at the same time.”