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Govt to subsidise poor and missing middle

Written by Priscilla Khumalo and Ongezwa Manyathi
Universities will individually decide on the fee increases for 2017 academic year, Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande announced recently. 

Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande says government wants to strengthen post-school learning and teaching.The Minister made the announcement at a special media briefing following the Council on Higher Education (CHE) report for 2017 fee adjustments as well as the Minister’s ongoing consultations with key stakeholders.

“Our recommendation is that fee adjustments should not go above eight percent,” Minister Nzimande said.

He added that universities currently face serious challenges in terms of funding, while at the same time large numbers of South Africans find it difficult to access post-school education because of financial challenges.

“Government is aware of these challenges and takes them very seriously.”

The Minister said government is committed to finding the resources to support children of all poor, working and middle class families, with a household income of up to R600 000 per annum, while subsidy funding will cover the gap between the 2015 fee and the adjusted 2017 fee.

“This will be done for fee increments up to eight percent.”

Minister Nzimande said a key priority for government is to ensure that post-school learning and teaching is strengthened, and that financial sustainability of the sector is not eroded.

“Our economy is currently weak and our fiscal position parlous. The tax burden has been rising in recent years, and we must preserve the fiscal space to fund government’s policy agenda in future years.

“This means that any funding government mobilises to support the pressing challenges in higher education, it would need to reprioritise from other government programmes.”

He added that students’ concerns about the affordability of university education were legitimate.

“At the same time, we need to ensure that those who can afford to pay must pay.”

He added that the post-school budget has to cover students in technical and vocational education and training, while at the same time face the challenge of providing 18 million South Africans, who are unable to study at university, access to community colleges.

“In other words, our job as government requires a number of very delicate balancing acts.”

All National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) qualifying students, as well as the so-called “missing middle” students will experience no fee increase in 2017, as government will pay for the adjustment.

“This will bring huge relief to nurses, teachers, police, social workers and other parents who work in occupations that do not earn huge salaries, and who have children at university. This will apply to students at universities and Technical Vocational and Education Training (TVET) colleges.

“Administrative mechanisms will be developed and students informed on how to apply for the gap-funding grant before the end of this academic year,” the Minister said.

While NSFAS will continue to provide loans and bursaries to poor students, the department and universities will continue to mobilise institutional and private sector financial support to enable affordable financial aid options for the missing middle students.

“I have consulted the Ministerial Task Team on funding support for the poor and "missing middle" students, which is developing a model that will be tested in 2017 to provide affordable support to these students.

“We will continue to look for other ways of supporting financially needy students not covered by NSFAS, whilst a long-term solution is being developed to raise sufficient funding from the public sector, private sector and other sources to fund "missing middle" students at universities and TVET colleges.”

Government has this year provided R1.9 billion of the R2.3 billion shortfall resulting from the subsidisation of the 2016 university fee increase. More than R4.5 billion in the 2016/17 financial year has been reprioritised to the NSFAS.

 

Fast Fact:

  • Students with a family income of up to R600 000 per annum will be supported by government.
  • In 2016 government provided R1.9 billion of the R2.3 billion shortfall following the subsidy on the 2016 university fee increase.
  • In the 2016/17 financial year R14.5 billion has been made available to NSFAS.
  • A total of 405 000 students received government support to access universities and colleges in 2016.