The government has announced that poor students won’t have to pay university and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) college fee increments in 2017.

The announcement was made by Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande, today at a briefing to reveal the recommended fee hike for the 2017 academic year.

In 2015, after the first #FeesMustFall protests erupted, President Jacob Zuma announced a 0% increment in university fees for this year.

This left many universities around the country to face a major possible financial deficit, with fears that the 2017 academic year would be hugely disrupted as institutions would struggle to finance their operations.

A report by the department’s Council on Higher Education released last month had recommended a fee increment of 8%.

“We’ve looked at the challenges at hand from all sides and have concluded that the best approach, would be to allow universities to individually determine the level of increase that their institutions will require…the fee adjustment should not go above 8%,” Nzimande said.

However, those classified as the “missing middle”, meaning students whose parents/funders earn too much to receive a government subsidy but are too poor to afford university fees overall, and poor students funded by NSFAS, will not have to pay the increment set by their institutions.

Nzimande said government is committed to finding the resources to support children of all poor, working and middle class families – those with a household income of up to R600 000 a year – with subsidy funding to cover the gap between the 2015 fee and the adjusted 2017 fee at their institutions.

Where will the money come from?

When asked how government will find the money to cover the fees for poor and missing middle students, Nzimande said he is not the Minister of Finance [Pravin Gordhan] and cannot address this.

“I’m hoping the Minister of Finance will possibly signal something in the Medium Term Budget Policy statement, but I can’t commit him in his absence as to when and how he will do this, it will be him who’ll actually be addressing that,” he said.

Nzimande did however say his department will continue to mobilise institutional and private sector financial support to enable affordable financial aid options for the “missing middle” students.

Long term interventions

According to Nzimande, his department is working on piloting a long term solution to funding poor and missing middle students next year.

“I have constituted 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,” he said.

“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.”

[Image – CC Government ZA]