Photo: Pretoria News
Photo: Pretoria News

‘Free’ university likely to cost poor

By Craig Dodds Time of article published Nov 1, 2015

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Johannesburg - Even if the government agrees to provide free university education in response to the #FeesMustFall movement it will not exactly be free if the recommendations of a working group appointed by Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande are accepted.

Even the poorest students would be expected to repay some of the costs covered on their behalf by the state once they started earning, though it would be a minimal amount.

A government grant to cover the difference between what they were required to repay and the full cost of their studies would be a “last resort”.

Dropouts would also be expected to repay some of the money and the working group’s report, submitted in 2012, suggests exploring the possibility of assigning a tax number to new students to facilitate a simplified collection system through the SA Revenue Service (Sars).

The report, which until now has been kept under wraps, says the country needs simultaneously to lift the majority of its population out of poverty, overcome inequality, take into account competing demands on the budget and ensure that proposals for broadening access to education are affordable.

“Accordingly, it is important to ensure that those users who can pay, do, both for their individual benefit and the benefit of society as a whole,” the report says.

It was made public this week following a successful Promotion of Access to Information Act application by civil society group

It suggests the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) – which it recommends as the primary vehicle for delivering free university education – could reach more needy students if they all repaid their loans.

But, rather than covering only the cost of registration and tuition, it recommends NSFAS loans should cover the full cost of study for all qualifying students – which for the purposes of its model it defined as those from households earning below the minimum tax threshold.

Political Bureau

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