Free tertiary education necessary, but could be detrimental – World Bank

Free tertiary education necessary, but could be detrimental – World Bank

Students from the #FeesMustFall movement march through the campus, 3 October 2016, at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Protesting students have vowed to continue disruptions after the university announced its plans to reopen academic activity today. Picture: Alaister Russell

SA has set a goal to double post-school education and training enrollment by 2030.

South Africa’s new education policy to offer free tertiary education to students from poor households is necessary to address inequalities, but could negatively affect the national budget, said the World Bank on Tuesday.

The bank predicted that South Africa’s economic growth – which the National Treasury has estimated at 0.7% for 2018 – would accelerate to 1.3% in 2019 and 1.7% the year after, driven by the implementation of structural reforms announced last year.

The education policy, announced by former president Jacob Zuma in December 2017, would effectively give free learning to 90% of academically eligible students to meet the national goal of doubling post-school education and training (PSET) enrollment by 2030.

But the plan would exert pressure on an already stretched fiscus, limiting South Africa’s ability to both expand enrollment in institutions of higher learning and improve the quality of education, the World Bank added.

The strain would be equivalent to about one percentage point of gross domestic product, leaving fewer public resources to increase admission capacity without compromising education quality, said World Bank South Africa program leader Sébastien Dessus.

“Nonetheless, this constraint should not deter this objective if difficult but necessary trade-offs are made,” Dessus added.

For South Africa’s economy to become sustainable sooner, it would be necessary to address its skills gap, which perpetuated inequality and fueled policy uncertainty, the World Bank said.

It said the country could increase college enrollments more rapidly and reduce inequality faster by re-balancing budgetary resources and policy reform attention towards interventions that improved the quality of education.

-African News Agency (ANA)

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