South Africa 23.10.2015 12:25 pm

Nzimande withheld report that free education is possible

FILE PICTURE: SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande. Picture: Nigel Sibanda

FILE PICTURE: SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande. Picture: Nigel Sibanda

Embattled Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande has for the past three years been withholding a report that found it was viable to provide free university tuition to the poor. 

The Mail & Guardian reported on Friday that Nzimande received the report in 2012 from a government working group he appointed two years earlier. The report quoted University of Johannesburg associate professor Salim Valley, who was a part of the working group, as saying he did not understand why the minister never made it public.

“In the light of people currently looking for concrete solutions, it would add to the debate and discussion. It would assist people,” he said.

“We took a long time to number-crunch and came up with a model that is realistic and feasible.” Vally said the team reached consensus that “free university education for the poor in South Africa is feasible”.

They proposed that government implement a model similar to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), and that the same threshold be used in the scheme whereby students coming from households in the lowest income tax bracket should not be required to pay.

According to the M&G report, the study further proposed that as and when government could find additional funding, more categories of needy studies eligible for support would be added. It saw the initial model proposed as a starting point for eventually implementing a comprehensive system of free tertiary education for the poor that would encapsulate housing, nutrition and career guidance.

Vally told the newspaper that he still believed free university learning for poor students was possible and should be extended to the children of professionals like nurses and teachers who currently do not qualify for support from NSFAS.

Protesting students this week directly targeted Nzimande, who on Monday proposed that university fee increases for 2016 be capped at six percent. It was rejected by students who on Wednesday confronted the minister at Parliament after pouring into the grounds of the legislature in a mass protest that ended in clashes with the police.

On Friday, students marching to the Union Buildings in Pretoria ahead of a meeting between their leaders and President Jacob Zuma chanted “Blade must fall” and “Zuma must fall”.

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