SA will have a fee-based, not 'free' education in 2018 – Universities SA

Pretoria – South Africa will still have a fee-based tertiary education system after government implements its new funding scheme, Universities South Africa (USAF) said.

Speaking to News24, USAF CEO Ahmed Bawa explained the practicalities around how "free education" would be implemented following a meeting with the Department of Higher Education and Training on Monday.

Representatives from the country's 26 universities were all present at the meeting, held at the department's Pretoria offices. 

"Each university will still set its own fees, to be approved by the institution's council, which will then be paid by bursaries funded by the Department of Higher Education," Bawa explained. 

"Unlike the previous NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme) loans scheme, the department's bursaries will not be capped and will hence be differential to each university."

Bawa said the higher education department would provide further details on its new funding scheme during the course of the week. 

The department was not immediately available for comment. 

'Areas of concern'

Asked whether the new scheme would incentivise universities to charge exorbitant fees, Bawa said the department had announced plans to introduce a fees framework to cap future fee increases. 

He also said the Economic Freedom Fighters' Student Command's threats of walk-in registrations had also been discussed at the meeting. 

"USAF supports the call to help students further their studies – everyone does – but we urge that students do not resort to violence."

Students can register on the Department of Higher Education and Training's website for possible university placement if they did not register in 2017. 

Bawa said while universities "have a better idea" of how the government's fee plan would be implemented, "several areas of concern have been raised". 

"There's certainly a sense among all the universities and vice-chancellors to make it work."

President Jacob Zuma announced "free education" for first years from households with a combined annual income of up to R350 000 in December – hours before the start of the ANC's elective conference.

This will be phased over a five-year period and excludes post graduate students. 

At the time, National Treasury said details of how "free education" would be funded would be provided in Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba's budget speech in February.