South Africa edges closer to free tertiary education

South Africa edges closer to free tertiary education
(File) Students and supporters shout slogans in downtown Johannesburg, South Africa. Pic: AP.

SOUTH AFRICA’S government is planning to introduce free tertiary education for its citizens but the windfall may come at the expense of budget cuts involving social services.

According to the Mail & Guardian newspaper, a presidential fiscal committee had presented a document to president Jacob Zuma outlining possible cuts to fund free higher education for lower-income students as well as plugging a swelling budget deficit.

Options included cuts to the social grants that are the main source of income for around 17 million people – a third of the population – and slashing the budgets for housing, infrastructure and the armed forces.

A freeze on civil servant wage hikes was also on the cards, the newspaper reported.

South Africa’s rand (ZAR) weakened on Thursday after comments by Zuma raised concerns about higher spending on education, which would put added strain on the country’s already stretched public finances.

The plan was apparently devised by Zuma’s future son-in-law‚ Morris Masutha‚ could see the cutting back of departmental budgets across government to make ZAR40-billion available for the 2018 academic year, Times Live reported.

“I think you might want to get input from those respective departments [presidency‚ higher education‚ and national Treasury] … And not me personally‚” Masutha was quoted as saying.

Earlier this year‚ Masutha estimated the cost of free education to be between ZAR6.5 billion and ZAR7.5 billion a year.

Masutha proposed tuition fees‚ accommodation‚ meals‚ transport and all study material be paid by the government.

“No poor and working-class student must be partially funded‚” he said, in a push for “inclusive and comprehensive higher education funding model for all undergraduate students”.

He added his recommendations could be implemented in 2018.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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