Minister Nzimande has also called for a tax to be imposed on the rich and wealthy to raise monies that can be channelled to fund higher education.
The debate comes after President Jacob Zuma announced that there will be no fee increases at tertiary institutions for the 2016 academic year following his meeting with Vice Chancellors and student representatives on Friday. As part of the deal, exams would be postponed to allow students to prepare.
“We as government are already working full steam to ensure that we implement our side of the President’s agreement and we believe the Vice Chancellors are too. “We call on all students to stick to their side of the agreement and resume the academic programmes in all our institutions and we wish to congratulate those students for going back to class on Friday,” he said.
Over the past two weeks, mass student protests – which originated at the University of the Witswatersrand – spread across the country against proposed increases in university fees for the 2016 academic year.
The Minister welcomed the announcement by the President, saying that this brought to a close discussions and negotiations that he opened with all the stakeholders at the beginning of last week and earlier, referring to a meeting he had held with university stakeholders.
“This decision will bring a much needed monetary relief especially to the poor, working class and lower middle class families with university students,” he said.
Calls for rich to be taxed to fund higher education
The Minister said while government would explore various models for funding free education, the state could not carry this burden on its own.
He called for a greater participation from the private sector, and added that universities should also prioritise their spend towards programmes of a transformational nature.
The Minister said fund allocation to universities from the fiscus increased by 30% between 2004/5 and 2015/16 – from R9.8 billion to R30.38 billion. But between 1994 and 2014, government doubled the number of students in higher education, the Minister said.
He said this huge increase saw larger numbers of poor students entering the university system.
“Today we are sitting with about a million university students, of which about 72% are black Africans, 6% Coloured, 5% Indian and 58% women. The increase in financial contribution, however, has not risen in line with the increase that we have had.
“But in this context we have to examine ourselves whether universities are spending their monies, including those with reserves, prudently, including whether they are prioritising transformative programmes.”
The Minister called for a wealth tax to fund free education.
“In the last week, many different funding models have been touted, including a greater contribution from the private sector, wealth tax, a graduate tax or an increase in the skills levy … Some of these we have explored in the past, some are somewhat new.
“We are open to exploring all the possibilities that have a transformational aspect. Our country has enough resources to support free higher education.
“My own considered view is that government must have the political will to tax the rich in order to fund higher education. None of us must develop cold feet of the necessity of taxing the rich to fund our children.”
The Minister said, meanwhile, that to resolve the immediate shortfall of an estimated R2.6 billion required to cover the zero percent fee increase, government is looking at exactly what the different sectors will contribute, together with the Minister of Finance.
“Details will be announced on Thursday afternoon after a meeting with the President. From our side, we have identified sources of funds that can reprioritised, obviously not at a cost to our other planned programmes, although some will be affected.”
He said in the long term, the department estimates that an appropriately funded higher education sector … would require an additional R19.7 billion per annum in the baseline for university subsidies, excluding NSFAS, with an annual increment for inflation for inflation and enrolment growth to meet the National Development Plan targets.