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We welcome free education but we’re sceptical: Wits, UCT and UKZN SRCs

Bonile Khanyi

President Jacob Zuma’s announcement for free higher education has elicited mixed reactions among student activists from various institutions in South Africa.

Speaking to Inside Education, Wits Student Representative Council (SRC) President Oridiretse Masebe said he was sceptical about the real will of the ruling party to implement the free higher education model that they’ve announced.

“We are very sceptical, because of the experience we’ve had with government. The ANC has always said they are for free education but they’ve never really sat down and presented a model on how their going to fund this model,” said Masebe.

Masebe said students weren’t sure who exactly the proposal made by the president would cater for.

“For example, we’re not clear on whether or not this model will cater for all students or it will only cater for first year students who are going to be entering the tertiary system in 2018,” he said.

Masebe also said it was unclear whether this intervention would assist those with historical debt.

In his announcement on Saturday Zuma said that all first-year students from poor and working-class background with a combined annual income of less than R350 000 would qualify for free tertiary education and said that deserving students will be funded and supported through government grants, not loans.

“All poor and working class South African students enrolled at public technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges will be funded through grants not loans,” Zuma said.

Masebe said that despite the uncertainty, the Wits SRC would engage with the university’s management to prepare its systems to allow for a smooth sailing process if and when the model kicks in next year.

“All that we’re doing now is that we are engaging the university, we’re trying to make sure that if and when it happens, the systems that the university have are positioned to best serve that process if it will ever be introduced.”

Zuma’s announcement was also denounced as nothing more but “something that’s been extremely reckless” by SRC President at the University of Cape Town’s (UCT’s) Karabo Khakhau.

“The President’s announcement towards free education is something that’s been extremely reckless, because of it being un-costed.”

Khakhau warned the President to stop making empty promises, and said he feared his plan would not materialise.  

“We’re entering into 2018 and students will be required to register, what happens when the model doesn’t kick in at the right time and how does one make a promise to the South African youth without a proper execution?” Khakhau asked.

Also speaking to Inside Education, the Central SRC President at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal Sandile Zondi said that they welcome the President’s announcement, but also questioned the funding model.

“We welcome the announcement, but the President must provide clarity on a lot of issues regarding his plans for free higher education for students from poor and middle glass backgrounds,” said Zondi.

“For instance, what about students who incurred debt during their first year and those whose results are with-held by the university because they still owing the university?” he said.

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