South Africa: PBO Briefs Appropriations Committee On Cost of Free Higher Education in SA

The Standing Committee on Appropriations was briefed by the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) this week on the cost of free higher education in South Africa.

The briefing by the PBO comes in the middle of the current state of affairs in institutions of higher learning where students are calling for free education for poor students. The #FeesMustFall movement calls for the decolonisation of education which reflects the frustrations with continuing poverty, inequality, the pace of change and expectations with regard to future employment.

Briefing the Committee, Ms Mmapula Sekatane from the PBO, said the report [and presentation] provides information for consideration by Parliament in preparation for further debate and consideration of the adoption of government proposals regarding funding of higher education in the medium term. “The report does not provide solutions to funding free education; it provides relevant information and analysis for consideration in relation to the challenge of providing funding for access to higher education and to support the country’s socio-economic development goals in redressing inequality.”

In her report, Ms Sekatane said key issues for consideration on higher education boil down to the current system where higher education funding is mixed between government, student fees and third stream (including private) finance. According to the PBO report, currently there are close to one million students in the system.

An analysis by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) categorises the higher education costs drivers into five main areas: tuition, registration, residence, meals and books. Tuition and residence contribute to more that 90% of higher education fees.

The PBO said additional funding for higher education poses a risk to attaining fiscal policy objectives, therefore objectives might need to be reconsidered, assuming that government revenue is insufficient to meet additional expenditure demands.

The Chairperson for the Committee, Ms Yvonne Phosa, said it’s important to note that education is an apex priority and, therefore, a constitutional imperative. The engagement with the PBO assists the Committee in the end to come up with sustainable solutions.

Responding to the analysis, a Committee member Dr Celiwe Madlopha, said: “At the moment we cannot afford to come with solutions as there is a commission that has been set up to look into the issue and it’s working on the modalities of free education – but the analysis assists us to debate.”

The Committee was of the view that funding towards free education must be made available for poor and deserving students.

Dr Malcolm Figg, a Committee member, said the country has a serious problems and one of the challenges that institutions of higher learning are faced with is the reduction of subsidies. “The government cannot come up with excuses that it does not have enough money [to fund free education],” he said.

Source : Parliament of South Africa