As universities are about to open for a new academic year, president Jacob Zuma has appealed to all those involved to refrain from acts of protests.

Johannesburg - As universities are about to open their doors for a new academic year, ANC president Jacob Zuma has appealed to all those involved to refrain from acts of protests.

“Let all stakeholders including government speak with one voice,” Zuma appealed.

The evidently concerned Zuma made multiple appeals to students in his speech while delivering his January 8 statement to mark the 105th birthday of the ANC at a packed Orlando Stadium in Soweto on Sunday.

Zuma told more than 70 000 people that his party has gone beyond its Freedom Charter policy clause on tertiary education to ensure that the poorest of the poor “gain access to education.”

“The Freedom Charter says higher education and technical training shall be open to all, that is the right to it. By means of state allowances and scholarship on the basis of merit. The right is open, but access is on the basis of merit."

“The ANC has gone beyond its policy by ensuring that even the poorest and children of working class people have access to education. It was on those basis that the ANC said children of family who have an annual income of up to R600 000 do not have to pay university fees."

“It is our measure of alleviating the burden of the missing middle class to further expand to access to institutions of higher education,” Zuma said.

The appeal to students and university management came while there is an imminent threat of #feesmustfall protests which affected most of the universities last year. 

Universities suffered damages of almost R1billion due to #feesmustfall protests in the country last year.

“Central to South Africa’s higher education funding crisis is a university system that is grossly underfunded, small in size and where education is increasingly sold as a commodity. The financial burden is increasingly transferred to poor and working class families,” he said.

Zuma, however, said progress was being made to ensure a lot of people have access to education saying the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) was covering for the tuition of 75 percent of students in tertiary education.

He also said that his government last year alone spent just over R9 billion to assist students from poor and working class families. 

“The provision of a fully subsidised free university education for new university entrants from poor and working class families in 2017 is expected to cost the state slightly less than R6 billion,” Zuma said.

It was at this stage, that Zuma made the impassioned plea for calm at the country’s institutions of higher education, calling all those involved in higher education to await the outcome of the Heher Commission.

The Commission was set up by Zuma to look into the possibilities of free education in South Africa.

“The Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training, led by Justice Heher will make a final recommendation on the long-term funding of higher education and training. As we wait for the commission to conclude its work in the next few months, we expect all higher education stakeholders and government to speak with one voice,” Zuma appealed.

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The Star