President Jacob Zuma’s announcement on Saturday that from 2018‚ eligible SA children of the unemployed‚ social grant recipients‚ parents earning below a minimum wage‚ domestic workers‚ farm workers‚ mine workers and entry level civil servants will be able to access public universities and TVET colleges for free‚ is being greeted with only cautious optimism.
The president said students from households with a combined annual income of R350‚000 or less will have their TVET college or university studies fully subsidised for first-years in 2018 and fully phased in over five years. There will also be “no tuition fee increment for students from households earning up to R600‚000 a year during the 2018 academic year”.
Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh commented‚ “Free education announcement is ultimately a positive development. Cynical timing‚ but this is a much better policy than the status quo. Historic victory for students. Let’s see how implementation unfolds. #ANC54.”
#FreeEducation announcement is ultimately a positive development. Cynical timing, but this is a much better policy than the status quo. Historic victory for students. Let’s see how implementation unfolds. #ANC54
— Sizwe Mpofu-Walsh (@SizweMpofuWalsh) December 16, 2017
Hlazo Mkandawire also questioned the timing.
“Students: We demand free education. President Zuma: Free higher education is hereby granted. Students again: Why now‚ what is your hidden agenda?”
Students: We demand #FreeEducation
President Zuma: Free higher education is hereby granted
Students again: Why now, what is your hidden agenda?
— Hlazo Mkandawire (@hlazotj) December 16, 2017
Paying for the high costs of higher education is worrying many South Africans‚ coming after previous announcements by the Heher commission and that details would be only provided in the February budget by Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba.
Refiloe’s Sunflowers @Waviestbaby commented: “This #FreeEducation chat has me so stressed‚ you’ve announced it yes but you didn’t say where the money would come from. So much uncertainty? Your president is playing with our black lives.”
This #FreeEducation chat has me so stressed, you've announced it yes but you didn't say where the money would come from. So much uncertainty?
Your president is playing with our black lives.
— Refiloe's Sunflowers (@Waviestbaby) December 16, 2017
Lebogang Moetjie @LebogangSeladi shared this cynicism‚ stating: “You don’t want to be caught up in the excitement of the announcement of free education while January you will be protesting for the implementation plan! The was no money a month ago and now what has changed? They may want to fool a few not the rest!”
Keabetswe @KeabetsweKB thought it could be a poisoned chalice for current Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa‚ bidding this weekend to succeed Jacob Zuma as ANC president.
“Zuma announces free education. Cyril becomes ANC President. Treasury tells him free education is not feasible under their fiscal consolidation commitment. Cyril retracts decision. Voters become irate. ANC purge Cyril. They hold an emergency conference to vote NDZ as president.”
Zuma announces #freeeducation. Cyril becomes ANC President. Treasury tells him #freeeducation is not feasible under their fiscal consolidation commitment. Cyril retracts decision. Voters become irate. ANC purge Cyril. They hold an emergency conference to vote NDZ as president.
— Keabetswe (@KeabetsweKB) December 16, 2017
@stolewonder shared: “Free education is the greatest 2019 elections strategy ever . . .I want to say that we’re ‘too woke to fall for it’ but the majority of the country isn’t on twitter/facebook so… well done ANC.”
— Ψ (@stolewonder) December 16, 2017
Seipati Tshabalala‚ UCT’s 2017 SRC president and founding deputy chairperson of the EFF’s student arm‚ commented: “This is not a complete victory. There are terms and conditions we must interrogate. For now comrades‚ we can say the President is taking a step in the right direction.”
Celeb Maps Maponyane commented‚ “Sadly the timing reeks of a cynical game of chess‚ nonetheless this a huge victory for current & future students in need of access to tertiary education. The STUDENTS did this. The over-arching question & focus now rests on implementation and affordability.”
Sadly the timing reeks of a cynical game of chess, nonetheless this a huge victory for current & future students in need of access to tertiary education.
The STUDENTS did this👏🏾✊🏾
The overarching question & focus now rests on Implementation & affordability. #FreeEducation🎓
— Maps Maponyane (@MapsMaponyane) December 16, 2017
Zuma’s announcement was denounced as “nothing more than reckless politicking” by Belinda Bozzoli‚ a member of parliament from the Democratic Alliance.
Bozzoli said the limited offer of “free education for the poor” would entail an increase in the NSFAS budget by at least 100% – from the current R11bn to about R22bn.
In addition‚ the announcement that university subsidies would be increased from 0.68 of GDP to 1% of GDP over the next five years‚ while welcome‚ “is completely uncosted”.
No fee increase for students whose families earn under R600‚000 was also uncosted‚ she said. “In previous years it cost something like R2.5bn.”
She said Zuma’s move “must be seen for what it is‚ playing politics with the hopes and futures of millions of young people”.
“The statement is a combination of populist politicking‚ deceptive language‚ uncosted proposals and one positively dangerous assertion.
“The President waited until the very end of the year so that he could make a splash at the ANC conference‚ while students‚ their families and the institutions they wish to attend anxiously awaited news. Such cheap politicking is appalling. Unsurprisingly‚ his statement is full of promises‚ but lacking actual implementation details.
“. . . We fear that this statement will cause more harm than good. It makes unsustainable and uncosted offers to students‚ raises expectations and fails to indicate that the huge bureaucracy needed to implement it is in place.”
Parliament’s Select Committee on Education and Recreation welcomed the president’s announcement – but also questioned the funding model.
“The far-reaching response by government is a step in the right direction in responding to the pleas of students within the higher education sector. The committee has always held the view that academic exclusion of the poor purely on the basis of affordability undercut South Africa’s democratic dispensation. This response is a step in the right direction to remedying the high levels of inequality in the country‚” said the select committee chairperson‚ Lungelwa Zwane.
She added Zuma’s focus on improving TVET colleges‚ including to upskill its lecturers‚ was also welcomed in the context of the skills shortages within sectors necessary to drive economic growth.
“While the Committee welcomes the announcement it will engage the Department of Higher Education and Training on the mechanics‚ implementation plan and funding model to support the rollout. This engagement will happen when Parliament resumes in early 2018.”
Source: TMG Digital.