Despite the fact that announcing free higher education was effectively his last major announcement before his departure as president of both ANC and country, former president Jacob Zuma has slammed the liberation movement and the country for taking more than two decades to make it happen.
Zuma’s unexpected announcement in December last year was welcomed by many, though analysts had concerns that the country would struggle to fund free tertiary education and that the move was a cynical ploy on Zuma’s part at the time to create a legacy for himself and place pressure on the ANC to elect Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. It came mere days before the ANC decided on a new president at its elective conference at Nasrec. That, however, did not succeed.
Delivering a lecture in uMlazi, KwaZulu-Natal, on Thursday night, Zuma explained his concern that he had made the decision “three years too late”.
“Why did we take over 20 years before we implemented [free higher education?]” asked Zuma. Free education had been guaranteed in the Freedom Charter decades earlier.
He said his decision was aimed at breaking the cycle of deserving black matriculants every year not being able to continue to university or college due to nothing other than having no funding.
Zuma pointed out that by prioritising the education of poor black students, the government would be reversing the apartheid ideology of keeping black people as subservient providers of manual labour alone.
Zuma’s decision went against the recommendations of the Heher commission of inquiry into higher education; he explained he had been unimpressed with the commission’s final report, which focused too heavily on viewing education as a business transaction and not as a social good or a force for transformation.
This week, Higher Education and Training Minister Naledi Pandor said progress had been made to ensure the new bursary scheme was implemented successfully.
As a result, additional government funding of R7.166 billion had been allocated in 2018 to fund bursaries for children of poor and working-class families entering universities and TVET colleges – with R4.581 billion set aside for qualifying university students and R2.585 billion allocated for TVET college students.
Free higher education is available to first-time entry students from families with a gross combined annual income of up to R350 000.
Briefing journalists in Cape Town, the minister said what had changed following the announcement was that government would support poor and working-class students through an expanded bursary scheme, which replaces the previous loan and partial bursary scheme.
“Although first time entering students will not be expected to pay back the cost of their bursaries, they will be expected to meet certain conditions and expectations, including those relating to satisfactory academic performance and service conditions.
“The exact details are being finalised. I am pleased to announce that good progress has been made since the announcement to ensure that the new bursary scheme is implemented successfully,” Pandor said.
The minister said that for TVET colleges, students in all years of study would receive a bursary to cover their tuition fee and learning materials.
The TVET students will need to meet certain requirements to qualify, meaning they must come from families earning a gross combined annual income of up to R350 000 and that they are registered for the National Certificate (Vocational) and Report 191 programmes at any public TVET college.
Pandor said the increase in funding for 2018/19 would support 458 875 students to receive tuition bursaries. Based on historical data and the enrolment targets for 2018/19, it is estimated that more than 90% of TVET college students will benefit.
“In addition, enrolled TVET college students who meet the requirements for travel and or accommodation and meals will also be supported for this. Approximately 50 480 TVET college students will qualify for accommodation and food, and a further 82 600 will qualify for transport allowances,” the minister said.
Pandor said in the case of universities, the full cost of bursaries for poor and working-class South Africans was being phased in from 2018, starting with first-time entry students from South African families with a gross combined annual income of up to R350 000.
She said that, every year, a new cohort of students would benefit from the scheme.