President Jacob Zuma says the South African government is committed to addressing the legitimate concerns of students and their families over the high costs of higher education.

The President gave a keynote address at the Higher Education Multi-Stakeholder Forum in Boksburg, Gauteng. The forum is convened by Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande and is attended by students, parents, business and labour.

President Zuma said government has heard the call of students and has been doing everything possible to assist students from poor households to obtain post-school education since 1994.

Government continues to support poor students in our system through the consistent expansion of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), loans and bursaries Government provided R16 billion additional funding this financial year to carry the zero percent [fee increase] for students.

Government carried these costs for all, even for those who can afford to pay and for the sponsoring private companies. While universities are the only legal authorities for determining fees, government has recommended that fee adjustments for the 2017 academic year should not be above 8%.

Government has also committed to pay the fee increases for next year on behalf of all poor, working class and ‘missing middle’ families – those with a household income of up to R600 000 per annum. This means that both NSFAS qualifying students and ‘missing middle’ students will experience a no fee increase in 2017. Government will pay the percentage fees adjustment, President Zuma said.

He called on all stakeholders to work together to address challenges at universities, saying education is a societal issue.

The choices we make here today, the positions we endorse and the leadership we provide have the potential to make or break our higher education system.

The President also urged stakeholders to allow the Presidential Commission on Higher Education Funding to finish its work so that it can help find lasting solutions. The commission was established in October 2015.

A ministerial task team, appointed by Minister Nzimande, is also developing a solid funding model for the future, which will enable government to support students from the ‘missing middle’ to access higher education.

The new model is planned for piloting in 2017, with full implementation in 2018, if approved, the President said.

Minister Nzimande stressed the need to find urgent, but long lasting solutions to some of the immediate challenges facing the system.

He, however, said that in finding solutions to immediate challenges facing the university system, there is a need to ensure that the medium to long-term goals are not compromised.

More importantly, we need to ensure that in responding to urgent challenges, we also do not lose sight of the bigger picture of the challenges facing the whole post-school education and training sector.

We have a big job to do. As a country, as society, as students and teachers, as government and communities, we need to come together and find a solution to the current disruptions and to the attempts at wholesale destruction.

Our job today as leaders is to find common ground; to find solutions which recognise and secure the space for legitimate protest, while at the same time (protecting) the right to go to class and finish one’s academic year, said Minister Nzimande.

Source: Nam News Network