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Durban – National Treasury director-general Lungisa Fuzile has warned about focusing only on higher education without paying much attention to the basic education system.

“As we deal with the situation, we must make sure we don’t focus on one part of education only to de-emphasise the other area which is the building block – early childhood development and basic education,” Fuzile said at a media conference before the tabling of the Budget for 2017/18.

He said that if the focus was only on higher education, the entire education system would be inequitable.

“The efficiency of education has to be improved through pumping resources into the system that falls short to give the economy of skills to enable the economy to grow,” Fuzile said.

He decried that some students failed in their first or second year of education at tertiary institutions.

“If you take one or two more years (to complete a degree), it means people stay in the system to use resources meant for their siblings,” he said.

His comments follow the allocation of a further R5 billion to students from low-income households studying at tertiary institutions.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said the R5bn was in addition to the R32bn allocated to higher education last year.

“Government has provided funds to ensure that no student whose combined family income is below R600 000 per annum will face fee increases at universities and TVET colleges for 2017."

“All poor students who applied and qualified for NSFAS awards, and who have been accepted by a university or a TVET college, will be supported.”

The intervention was in response to the #FeesMustFall movement that has been waging a campaign against fee increases and also pushing for free education.

Gordhan said the commission appointed by President Jacob Zuma to look into matters in higher education would complete its work in June.

“The inter-ministerial committee on higher education led by Minister Radebe is engaging all stakeholders,” he said.

However, he said it was imperative to develop a clear road map towards a better higher education and training system.

“It must clearly indicate how society will access opportunity, financing and support for students in the university and further education sectors,” Gordhan said.

The minister said the quality of schools and further education institutions was at the heart of their commitment to children’s futures.

“We will continue to increase resources for early childhood development, improve our basic education outcomes and step up our support to TVET colleges and universities.”

Gordhan also said R240bn would be spent on basic education. “Allocations for school building increases at 12.5% a year. Spending on learning and teaching support materials increases by 9.5% over three years.”

Political Bureau