free education mukovhe morris masutha

Ian Barbour/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Free education: How it could yield great economic benefits for SA

Masutha believes SA is set to benefit greatly from free education in the long term.

free education mukovhe morris masutha

Ian Barbour/Flickr, CC BY-SA

In one of his final actions as ANC president, Jacob Zuma stunned the country when he announced a plan to implement free higher education going into 2018.

While this announcement was welcome by many, there were a few who rightly raised questions as to how government is to go about putting systems into place to ensure that it is economically viable.

According to the director of the Centre for Emerging Reasearchers Mukovhe Morris Masutha who spoke in an interview with HuffPost SA, South Africa can more than afford free education for poor and working class students.

Masutha believes free education for those coming from disadvantaged backgrounds should be looked at beyond “a narrow budgetary lens”, and should instead be seen as an investment which can yield great returns economically, culturally, socially and even politically.

How will South Africa benefit from free higher education?

According to Masutha, when looking at the bigger picture the state will suffer no financial loss resulting from free education. There will be benefits resulting from investing in equipping more of the country’s population with skills.

“Free education is not a cost to the state, because South Africa will, in fact, make money from free higher education,” Masutha said.

“Our economy is currently performing poorly as a result of low investment –– people don’t invest in SA, because it is expensive to invest in the country. Ensuring that the bulk of our population is skilled will lead to attracting investment into SA, thus making money for SA.”

Masutha believes that free education basically funds itself as this investment into skills will turn more citizens into active participants in the country’s economy.

How does government plan on implementing free education?

According to government’s statement, a new criteria determining who qualifies for financial aid (NSFAS) will be introduced.

Previously, only those who came from households earning up to R122 000 a year qualified for NSFAS but this figure has since been increased to R350 000. This covers more than 90% of the country’s households.

For those who are already on NSFAS, the loan is effectively converted into a grant and they will not have to pay it back. This addresses the issue of young graduates who start life in the work place already faced with debt.

The precondition to accessing free higher education is a firm offer allocated by the 26 public universities if you are going to university, and one of the 56 TVET colleges if you’re going to a TVET college.

NSFAS is now processed online rather than on campus as was the case previously.

The government also plans to increase the proportion of GDP contribution to the university subsidy from 0.68 percent to 1 percent and also prioritise funding of TVET college infrastructure.

Also read: Which countries provide free education at a university level?