Students at Stellenbosch University protesting.

Carlo Petersen

 

The cabinet and Treasury are reconsidering implementing a policy on fee-free higher education, says the Higher Education Department.

Spokesperson Khaye Nkwanyana said the Department of Higher Education and Training met the Treasury and cabinet yesterday and discussed how the policy could be implemented.

Nkwanyana said talks would continue this week.

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande submitted the report on a fee-free education policy in February 2013, but the policy’s implementation was turned down by the government due to “inadequate revenue from the national fiscus”.

“The report is still with the cabinet. They will now relook it and reconsider if there are ways to get the money to implement free education,” said Nkwanyana.

He said the fee-free education policy would have cost the government about R23 billion in 2013.

“It would cost way above R100bn now,” he said.

Last week it was reported that Nzimande had withheld the report, but these allegations have since been refuted by the Higher Education Department.

“The report was submitted to the minister (Nzimande) in February 2013. The minister presented the contents of the report to the ANC NEC (national executive committee) health and education subcommittee, ANC lekgotla, the cabinet and Treasury,” Nkwanyana said.

“The report has never been a secret, nor has (it) been sat upon by the minister. Therefore, it is unfounded and extremely malicious… to make this claim.”

 

He said Nzimande had appointed a working group in 2012 to advise the department on the following:

l Determine the actual cost of introducing fee-free university education for poor people; in other words, what would it cost South Africa to offer fee-free university education to cover people classified as poor.

l Suggest a working definition of poor people in South Africa, if necessary suggest different categories and how all can be provided with fee-free university education; and consideration should be given to the “missing middle”, where some families do not earn enough to be considered for loans by financial institutions but are not classified as poor – thus cannot access services directed at those classified as poor.

l Consider existing policy provision and broadly consult documentation of other task teams/working groups in the department which deal or dealt with related fields.

l Examine various models and options of providing fee-free higher education for poor people used elsewhere in the world and make recommendations to the minister.

lAnd contemplate all possible implications and consequences of providing fee-free tertiary education.

Asked yesterday why the findings of the report and government’s decision not to implement the policy were |not released to the public in 2013, Nkwanyana replied: |“It is a public document, but due to the nature of the report, we decided not to make it public.

“Obviously we would have been setting the finance minister up against the public if that decision and report was released.

“Because of the national outcry, we want to be very systematic about our approach, but the findings of that report will be released this week.”

The cabinet and Treasury would not be drawn into commenting about the report yesterday.

Treasury spokesperson Phumza Macanda said: “This sounds like a query for cabinet, not Treasury. Budget decisions are cabinet decisions.”

Cabinet spokesperson Bongani Majola would not comment, instead referring the Cape Times back to the Higher Education Department.

Following the national #FeesMustFall shutdown and President Jacob Zuma’s “no university fee increase for |2016” announcement, a presidential task team has been established to look at free education, student debt and other broader transformation issues affecting higher education.

The portfolio committee on higher education and training yesterday urged the government to accelerate the provision of fee-free education at tertiary level.

“The provision of fee-free education at tertiary level |is a process and not an |event that will be accomplished overnight,” committee chairperson Yvonne Phosa said.

“However, it will be in |the best interest of this |country if this process is fast-tracked.”

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