Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande says there are already many students in South Africa who are getting free education through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).
The Minister was speaking to media on Thursday just after his presentation to the Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training, where he was questioned by the Commission on the feasibility of fee free higher education.
The Commission was established to enquire into, report on and make recommendations on the feasibility of a fee free higher education and training. It was chaired by Judge Jonathan Heher.
This at the time when many university students across the country have been, and some continue to, protesting for no fee increase by universities for next year. Some of the students are demanding fee free higher education.
But the Minister said NSFAS beneficiaries are already getting free higher education because they do not have to pay anything upfront, they start paying when they start working.
Minister Nzimande said the country is using a model that allows those who have benefited from the financial aid scheme to pay back the money so that others can benefit as well.
We are a country that does not have enough money there are hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries at universities and colleges. The fact that we have not reached everybody, we must not say it is not happening.
However, he acknowledged that NSFAS is not funding students adequately. He said government has been self-critical of the R122 000 annual household income that was used to identify students who needed funding.
Although many students have said having to pay back the money means that it is not free education, Minister Nzimande’s said there is actually nothing like free education anywhere in the world because someone is paying.
In other countries it is taxpayers [who fund university fees]. In South Africa is the taxpayers who give you money upfront and then say when you are working bring it back in order to assist others. Strictly speaking somebody is paying, he said.
The Minister said South Africa is a highly unequal society, and those who can afford to pay must pay.
The Minister said he noted through his engagements with students that not all of them necessarily demand free education, they understand. He also said education should be seen as a public good and that is why the poor must be helped.
Meanwhile, the Minister has urged students to go back to classes and give the Commission time to finish its work.
He said government has since the wake of the fees must fall protests came up with interim solutions, while the Commission is working on finding a long term solution.
During his presentation to the Commission, the Minister said South Africa is a victim of its own success as university intake has more than doubled since 1994, giving more access to those who were previously disadvantaged by the apartheid system.
Source: South African Government News Agency