ANC Secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said that from the 2018 academic year, poor students would be subsidised when they entered higher education. File picture: Nokuthula Mbatha/ANA Pictures

Johannesburg - The ANC wants to roll out free higher education from next year.

Secretary-general Gwede Mantashe on Monday said that at the ANC's lekgotla at the weekend it was agreed that from the 2018 academic year, poor students would be subsidised when they entered higher education.

There have been widespread protests at higher education institutions since 2015, with students demanding free education.

President Jacob Zuma set up the Heher Commission to look into the feasibility of free higher education as a result of the protests. The commission completed its work last month, and has until August 31 to send the report to Zuma.

Mantashe said that plans had to be put in place for next year.

“The Heher Commission was appointed to go through the issue. No child should be deprived the right to development because of the economic status of the family. That is what is driving us. Heher will come with the report and we will look into it and take further decisions.”

Mantashe announced that fully subsidised grants should be provided to academically qualifying poor students with a yearly combined household income of R150 000 and below.

Students with an annual combined household of between R150 000 and R600 000 should be subsidised through a combination of grants and income-contingent affordable loans, with their families contributing to a portion of their studies.

“If we can introduce this for first-year students in 2018, we will be beginning to phase in fee-free education in higher learning. Students will be required to maintain adequate academic performance, or be disqualified.”

He said it was up to the Cabinet lekgotla - which will be held on Tuesday - to come up with ways of implementing the policy.

If the policy is introduced, it would be an addition to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme and the Ikusasa Financial Aid Scheme. 

Ikusasa was introduced as a pilot project this year to help fund “missing middle” students with household incomes of between R122 000 and R600 000.

On matters of the economy, Mantashe said the lekgotla endorsed Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba’s 14-point plan to rescue the country from recession.

“The plan is intended to reduce the government’s interventions and act as an accountability mechanism for delivery."

"We have no doubt that the implementation of this plan will go a long way in creating certainty and boosting confidence among stakeholders.”

Among the points in the plan were the sale of non-core assets and partial privatisation of state-owned entities.

The Star