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Uncertainty on how to fund free education deepens

Thabo Mohlala

The perception that President Jacob Zuma made the announcement of free higher education to poor students without consulting key stakeholders is gaining traction.

Sizwe Nxasana, the chairman of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), confirmed during a Talk Radio 702 interview this morning that his organisation does not have information on how free education will be funded.

Finance Minister, Malusi Gigaba, was also caught off guard and released a terse statement that he would share more details on the matter in February next year.

He said NSFAS will continue to play its role in disbursing funds to students who meet the requirements. He acknowledged that the lack of details on how government is going to fund free education will worry ratings agencies.

“Ratings agencies are obviously watching which way the country is going especially in terms of fiscal discipline. The statement that came out on Saturday from Treasury indicates that while government will increase financial aid to students in the form of free education for those who come from poor backgrounds they committed to do this within fiscal consolidation and discipline. Obviously, the proof of the pudding is still yet to be seen,” said Nxasana.

Universities South Africa chief executive, Professor Ahmed Bawa, also said they were not consulted about how the plan will be funded. Wits’ Adam Habib said vice-chancellor met with the Department of Higher Education and training (DHET) to discuss 2018 fee increases for poor households but they did not discuss free education.

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