The Democratic Alliance (DA) believes Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande’s announcement of a 2017 tertiary fees plan “verges on the irresponsible”, because the minister has no assurance from Treasury to back up his promises.
Nzimande announced on Monday that university fees for 2017 would not increase for National Student Financial Aid Scheme- (Nsfas)-qualifying students and s0-called missing middle students.
“Missing middle” students are those who are classified as “too rich” to qualify for government support, but “too poor” to afford tuition fees.
The DA called on Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan to clarify a source of funding for the higher education department to fulfil this promise. The party says this is so that the department doesn’t repeat what happened last year when universities ended up having to pay for some of the resulting costs.
“While we welcome the announcement, as well as the acknowledgment by the minister that he respects university autonomy, he failed to give us a clear indication that the funding support he announced for poor, deserving students actually exists.
“While Minister Nzimande has committed government to cover fee increases for all poor, working and middle class students at universities and TVETs [technical vocational education and training] in 2017, he stated that he ‘hopes’ that the minister of finance will announce funding in the medium-term budget policy statement, expected at the end of October.
“Making such an announcement, without a commitment from the Treasury, verges on the irresponsible. Besides this glaring gap in the announcement, Minister Nzimande provided us with no assurance that the higher education sector would not again have to pay for all or a part of the additional support to students.
“The DA calls upon Minister Gordhan to clarify the matter of the sources of the funding. He needs to make clear to the public whether the higher education budget will be protected from further raiding, and whether, indeed, the fund for historically disadvantaged universities will ever be restored.”