ANC NEC on higher education protests and demand for free higher education

The National Executive Committee (NEC) deliberated extensively on the ongoing protests in higher education. The NEC is disturbed by the interruption of the academic programme that has resulted from the wanton destruction of property, intimidation and violence.

The ANC expresses its condolences to the family of the WITS employee who lost her life in the past week.

The Freedom Charter says that The Doors of Learning and Culture shall be opened. It says specifically ” that higher education and technical training shall be opened to all by means of state allowances and scholarships on the basis of merit.”

At least two Conferences of the ANC confirmed our resolve to implement  free higher education, for undergraduate level students from poor and working class families. We have been hard at work to ensure the progressive realisation of this objective.

Some of the ANC- led government’s interventions include:

Substantial injections of new funding since 2010 to support the progressive introduction of free higher education and training for the poor:

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) is a state funded programme for funding poor students at universities, technical and vocational colleges.

  • Government, through NSFAS, has already introduced free TVET college education to poor students.
  • NSFAS bursary funding at TVET colleges has increased from R318 million in 2010 to R2.3 billion in 2016 and loan funding at universities has increased from R2.2 billion in 2010 to R6.4 billion in 2016.
  • Substantial additional funding disbursed by NSFAS from the National Skills Fund (NSF) for scarce skills bursaries, Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) for bursaries to support skills in specific sectors,  Department of Basic Education for teacher bursaries and Department of Social Development for Social Work, amongst others. A total of R14.6 billion will be disbursed by NSFAS in the 2016 academic year to support approximately 480 000 students.
  • R2.543 billion of the R14.6 billion has been earmarked for loans to pay off the historic debt of NSFAS qualifying students who were either underfunded or not funded in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 academic years.
  • Government’s provision of R1.9 billion of the R2.3 billion shortfall resulting from the subsidization of the 2016 university fee increase with more than R4.5 billion in the 2016/17 financial year being reprioritised to NSFAS.

The NEC believes that the interventions of the ANC-led government give practical expression to the education provisions of the Freedom Charter. In fact, NSFAS goes beyond the Freedom Charter demands in that thousands of poor students are assisted through NSFAS. This funding model advances our goals of addressing inequality and ensuring the poor are not excluded from enjoying the opportunity of accessing higher education.

The recent announcement by cde Blade Nzimande, the minister of Higher Education, was welcomed as a significant step toward realising fee-free higher education for poor students. Students, who are current recipients of NSFAS and new applicants, will be supported to meet the costs of 2017. Students whose families earn up to R600 000 annual household income, will not have to pay any fee increases. This so-called “missing middle” will also received NSFAS support.

This is an unprecedented progressive intervention by the ANC government. Only those who can afford to pay will pay the increased fees.

The NEC agreed that, given that over 75% of students in universities and colleges will benefit, the government has moved a long way toward achieving fee-free higher education for many that are in need of assistance. We continue to support the principle that those who can afford to pay for  higher education, must continue to do so in line with the principles of solidarity and cross-subsidization.

We call on students to return to lectures and continue with the academic programme. We appeal to parents to ensure an orderly return to learning.

The ANC continues to support and respect the rights of all in society to protest peacefully. The violence and destruction of university infrastructure accompanying some of the current protests cannot be justified. Destruction of property means public funds will have to be diverted from funding poor students to refurbishing infrastructure. We cannot afford to lose more lives or continue to disrupt the academic programme.

We call on all to respect the rights of those students who wish to resume their studies and to identify and isolate those who perpetrate acts of violence and destroy public property. The NEC further asks the police and the criminal justice system to bring the alleged perpetrators to justice.

The NEC encourages all structures to submit proposals on fees in higher education to the Heher Commission to ensure that the final proposals of the Commission include a broad range of views and perspectives.

Issued by Gwede Mantashe
Secretary General: African National Congress

Zizi Kodwa

Posted in Media Statements
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