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Free education to cost an estimated R250 billion

By Danielle van Wyk

According to Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) research, the cost of free-education at higher education institutions would cost the fiscus an estimated R250 billion over the span of three years. This coupled to remarks from Higher Education department, Treasury and experts that free education was not a feasible financial option for the country at present, have had many up in arms, as protests continue.

“The briefing by the PBO comes in the middle of the current state of affairs in institutions of higher learning where students are calling for free education for poor students. The #FeesMustFall movement calls for the decolonisation of education which reflects the frustrations with continuing poverty, inequality, the pace of change and expectations with regard to future employment,” stated Parliament.

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) performed an analysis in which it categorises the higher education cost drivers into five main areas, namely, tuition, registration, residence, meals and books.

“Tuition and residence contribute to more than 90% of higher education fees. The PBO said additional funding for higher education poses a risk to attaining fiscal policy objectives, therefore objectives might need to be reconsidered, assuming that government revenue is insufficient to meet additional expenditure demands,” Parliament added.

According to the PBO Treasury would need to find an extra R83 billion each year, for the next three years, to pay for every under graduate student currently enrolled.

While MP’s believe that the amount is attainable it would require government to curb spending on a large scale, starting with wastage, reported SABC.

“All of us are worried about the wastage that goes in government in various forms, and we are saying if you close that loop there might just be, probably not enough, but at least we can say there will be money to pour into the pot,” remarked ANC member of parliament (MP), Ndabakayise Gcwabaza.

A call was further made from committee chairperson, Yvonne Khoza, to sensibly sift through state programmes to find the necessary money.

Still, others remain all too comfortable with leaving it in the hands of the commission that has been set up to look into the issue.

Yesterday’s Medium Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was among the most anticipated budget announcements, as the nation comes to terms with political and civil turmoil. With one of the most awaited points being higher education expenditure.

Following on the announcement by Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, earlier this year, about government intention to subsidise poor students from households that fall within the missing middle, the NSFAS allocation was increased.

Yesterday’s budget statement announced the R17.6 billion injection in NSFAS over the next three years, to aid with the funding of poorer students. This comes in over and above the additional R16 billion that was allocated to NSFAS for this purpose in February.

While this allocation was welcomed, many feel that it’s “too little, too late” category.

Further challenges remain the high volumes of student debt, the low repayment rate of NSFAS loans and the increasingly high dropout rate of undergraduate students.

A year ago, when the country found itself in a similar situation with disruptive protests in the name of free education, the president himself was heard stating that it was an option. “President Jacob Zuma said free university education is possible, four days after he acceded to demands of students to freeze fee levels for next year following nationwide protests…You’ve got to be able to have the resources,” reported News24.

In a tough economic climate, the nation continues to stand divided on the matter, as we wait with baited breath for the outcome of the fees inquiry.

 Handy tip: If you can’t afford university fees, apply for a student loan through Justmoney.


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