The Price of Free Higher Education

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By Ntombi Khulu

This article is exclusive to the online Edition 1 of VARSITY Newspaper. 

Image by Thapelo Masebe.

Ex-Minister of Higher Education sheds light on promise of free tertiary education.

Decolonised and free higher education has been the main topic of conversation across universities all over the country, and UCT has been no different. On Thursday, the 22nd of February, the now-former Minister of Higher Education, Hlengiwe Mkhize, gave a brief presentation at UCT’s New Lecture Theatre on the prospect of public tertiary education fees being funded by the government. The talk was organised and chaired by the South African Students’ Congress, also known as SASCO, as well as the ANC Youth League Western Cape with a few speakers from SACSO and the ANC Youth League preceding Mkhize’s presentation.

The announcement of free higher education in South Africa came about in December 2017 by former President Jacob Zuma, however not many details were given as to how the South African government would be able to fund this process.

At the presentation, the former Minister of Education made note of the R57 billion that would fund tertiary education announced by the former Minister of Finance, Malusi Gigaba, during his budget speech on the 21st of February 2018.

It was stated that the new policy of funded higher education would cover registration fees as well as Technical and Vocational Education and Training colleges, or TVET colleges. However, there would be a “government bias” to those from low income households and those pursuing degrees in ICT services and engineering due to the high unemployment rate, the constant threat of South Africa’s economy being subjected to “junk status”, and the currently volatile economic climate of the country.

Mkhize posed questions about where the funding would come from, and whether graduate or wealth taxes would be created in order to fund free higher education. She also emphasised the option of more courses providing their learning material online. The former Minister of Higher Education left the presentation earlier than expected and a question and answer session was unable to be held at the end of the presentation. While the presentation furthered the conversation of free higher education that was sparked by the Fees Must Fall movement in 2015, there are still a number of questions and critical logistics that have yet to be made available to the public regarding how this will finally be achieved.


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