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South Africa: The interim report published by the fees commission

As the student protests in South Africa continue across campuses in the country, the government is considering new funding models to reform the student grant and loan system. The fees commission, set up in January 2016, published this month an interim report aimed at looking into the feasibility of free higher education and training in the country. The report has been met with a lot of disapproval for any lack of commitment by the government and no concrete suggestions as to the way forward.   

What this eight-page document provides is a list of eight items that the fees-commission is to investigate during its mandate, and a broad picture on the first three items, as presented below, which are addressed in the interim report. The remaining five areas are yet to be investigated by the commission. The list looks as follows:

  • An overview by stakeholders of the terms of reference of the Commission.
  • Post-school education and training in South Africa.
  • The funding of institutions of higher education and training and understanding their operational costs.
  • The nature, accessibility and effectiveness of student funding by government, the private sector and foreign aid.
  • The meaning and content of ‘fee-free’ higher education and training.
  • Alternative sources of funding.
  • The social, economic and financial implications of fee-free higher education and training.
  • The feasibility of providing fee-free higher education and training the extent of such provision.

The report is very clear about the lack of funding needed to support more students and indicates an intention by the fees commission to investigate during its work potential sources and models of funding. The government states as its obligation to support students in covering the costs of transportation, accommodation and living expenses as well as learning materials, but the tuition fee issue remains a big unresolved question in the presented document. However, what the commission has proposed to investigate are the following funding-related possibilities:
  • Alternative proposals for provision of higher education and training through internet cafes erected in electoral districts;
  • Unused or underutilized funds deriving from various statutory and private obligations to contribute;
  • A range of taxation proposals;
  • More fruitful participation of the private sector including corporates, banks, industry and BBBEE schemes;
  • Prospective savings in relation to wasteful government expenditure;
  • The role of providers of private higher education;
  • The possibility of establishing a community or co-operative education bank.
  • A voucher system for access to higher education facilities.

The fees commission, which was originally to complete its work this year already, has been given an extension of the mandate until June 2017. After 11 months since its appointment, it has less than eight months to investigate the remaining five out eight items on its to-do list.

South African government website - Press release The interim report - feasibility of free higher education and training SHARE