Johannesburg - Department of Higher Education and Training deputy minister Buti Manamela says certain compromises have to be made in pursuit of free higher education.
Manamela said this during a live Twitter chat on Thursday afternoon.
The chat, scheduled for an hour, was hosted by ActivateZA and looked at the feasibility of free higher education in the South African context as well as whether free education is a danger or an advantage to the South African economy?
According to Manamela, only 450 000 spaces are available at higher education institutions this year.
Asked during the chat by a user if government would remain consistent with the decision of free education and where funds are going to be sourced from to sustain this policy, the deputy minister replied: "We should all agree that fee-free higher education will come at a huge cost over time, and therefore certain compromises have to be reached, whilst new sources of revenue pursued. This should be part of the national discussion."
Manamela said the "role students played through the #FeesMustFall pushed government to reprioritise its expenditure and ensure that this becomes a possibility. It was long overdue as many have pointed out."
Further quizzed on how his department alongside relevant stakeholders would handle accommodation and availability of spaces at universities, Manamela highlighted that government was committed to expanding higher education institutions such as TVET colleges.
This, he said, would be done through opening 12 new campuses and building two new universities in Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape.
President Jacob Zuma in December highlighted that government would fund students from poor backgrounds and those from the working class whose combined family income is less than R350 000.
DHET has maintained that students' tuitions, accommodation, transport fees would be paid over a period of five years provided they are eligible and meet the requirements.
While Treasury has outlined that government would be able to afford funding tuitions fees for poor students, there is still vast uncertainty about where exactly the money will come from and how it will be utilised. But Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba said there was a plan, which he is expected to detail in his budget speech next month.
"Government will never be bankrupt as a result of this decision, which is intended to invest in our country’s skills and Human Resources," was Manamela's response to another question.
Meanwhile, some questions included whether Sassa grant recipients can be rejected and barred from applying for funding through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).
Manamela said grant recipients automatically qualified to be financially supported.
Asked if those who have not applied for NSFAS qualify for free education?
He responded: They do. Universities do allow students to apply and @myNSFAS will consider their applications. We want to cover as many deserving students as possible."
Manamela also said: Those who get their grants from 2018 onwards will not pay back the money. The Minister of higher education will make an announcement later about those who are already on @myNSFAS loans