#FreeEducation: The wheels begin to turn

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A student at the CUT’s Bloemfontein campus during a #FeesShutDown march late in 2016, following an announcement that fees would increase in 2017. PHOTO: MARK STEENBOK

One of the statements that were made in the Freedom Charter in 1994, was that “education shall be free, compulsory, universal and equal for all children”.
Today, more than 20 years later, the Minister of Higher Education, Professor Hlengiwe Mkhize, confirmed that the wheels are beginning to turn with regards to free education in the country.
Speaking at a media briefing in Johannesburg on the matter of free education, which has raised strong opinions, Mkhize said that the new system would be phased in over the next five years, starting with the first year students of 2018.
She stated, however, that only applicants who have received a definite offer from a university or technical, vocational education and training college (TVET) will be assessed and considered for funding.
While Mkhize was unable to respond to a range of questions posed to her by members in the audience, who represented several higher education bodies, such as Inside Education, she repeatedly stated that the new policy, as per President Jacob Zuma’s announcement on 16 December, is not meant to disrupt normal activities at various universities, hence the new system will be implemented in phases. As per Zuma’s announcement, free education will only apply to households with an income of less than R350 000 a year.
Mkhize was also unable to answer questions on where the money to fund free education for these students would come from. She simply stated that she could not provide the exact amounts and would rather not comment or provide a number.
Meanwhile, the spokesperson of the national treasury, Mayihlome Tshwete, confirmed in an interview on Radio 702’s Midday Report, that the treasury is still looking for the money to fund free education.
“If there is a question whether there are billions that are ready to be paid for free education, the answer would simply be ‘no’. What we do have are committees and teams that are tasked with the responsibility of looking at expenditure of government and revenue management to make sure the priorities of government are to allocate the necessary funds that are needed,” Tshwete said in the interview.
He said that once funding has been allocated, the budget will be made public during the Budget Speech in February. He also said that government will need to “make sacrifices, one way or another” in order to ensure that the higher education situation in the country takes priority.
If government considers free education for all, Tshwete says the figures needed could be in the ranges of R80 billion, while free education for first and second year students will cost in the vicinity of R50 to R60 billion.
Pulane Choane/Courant News