Education was one of the items on the agenda when President Jacob Zuma recently engaged listeners of different community radio stations across South Africa simultaneously.
An issue raised was that of financial assistance for higher education students.
The President said that he initially called a meeting with student and university leaders and the Department of Higher Education to discuss the issues around high tuition fees and the fact that those from disadvantaged backgrounds cannot afford to pay them.
“It was clear to me at the time that the issues at hand couldn’t be resolved in the meeting due to their complexity. Work needed to be done and I therefore appointed the Heher Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training to look into the matter,” he said.
The commission will complete its work by June this year. The Inter-Ministerial Committee on Higher Education, led by Minister Radebe, is engaging all stakeholders to discuss the issues. Civil society initiatives involving business, churches and other organisations have created space for a diversity of options to be considered.
The President has invited stakeholders to participate in processes that are underway so that all views are heard.
Government recognises the needs articulated by the students, former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said in his recent Budget Speech.
“As the economy grows, we will be able to do more to finance an expansion in tertiary education opportunities and improvements in student funding,” he said.
Government increased its higher education budget allocations by R32 billion in last year’s budget and the 2016 Medium Term Budget Policy Statement, and has now added another R5 billion.
“No student whose combined family income is below R600 000 per annum will face fee increases at universities and technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges for 2017.
“All poor students who applied and qualified for National Student Financial Aid Scheme awards, and who have been accepted by a university or a TVET college, will be supported,” former Minister Gordhan said.
Given the magnitude of student funding requirements, it is imperative that government develops a clear roadmap towards a better higher education and training funding system.
The President assured the radio audience that the commission’s report will indicate how society will achieve access, opportunity, financing and support for students in the university and further education sectors.”