Amid uncertainty whether or not the government is currently working on a sustainable plan to make free higher education possible, Finance Minister Gigaba Malusi has affirmed that fee-free university education will go ahead.
The controversial minister made this known on Thursday in his reply to the debate in the National Assembly on the Adjustments Appropriation Bill and the medium-term budget policy. He was answering questions about his position on the Heher Commission’s inquiry and whether tertiary fees would fall.
Gigaba disclosed that President Zuma is still studying the report and will make an announcement. He, however, urged concerned authorities to be wary of whatever decision is taken on higher education fees, in order to avoid chaos in the budget process.
The minister added:
“The instruction clearly from the president and from Cabinet is that whatever option must be fiscally sustainable so that it does not cause chaos in the budget process.
The economic slowdown requires a united response to grow our economy inclusively and to create jobs. And towards that, we will have to embark on fiscal consolidation measures to cut expenditure by R25bn, enhance revenues by R15bn, implement fee-free higher education in a fiscally sustainable manner and implement…”
Gigaba’s confirmation stands in opposition to the Heher commission of inquiry’s 748-page report, which concluded that free fee education cannot be afforded in the country – at least for now. The Heher commission, rather, advised that alternative funding models need to be adopted and these models should take into account the state of the country’s economy.
Earlier in November, the Davis Tax Committee, in a separate report, upheld that a fee-free higher education for all tertiary students in SA, including the wealthy, was not “financially possible or desirable in the short-to-medium term.
While the Heher commission of inquiry was set up by President Zuma following the Fees Must Fall protest in 2015, the Davis Tax committee, chaired by Judge Dennis Davis, was set up in July 2013 to assess South Africa’s tax policy framework and submit recommendations to the finance minister.
The controversial measure towards a fiscally sustainable free higher education was reportedly proposed by a family associate of President Jacob Zuma while the measure is expected to cost an estimated R40bn.
During Gigaba’s speech on the Adjustments Appropriation Bill and the medium-term budget policy, the minister also told Members of Parliament that Cabinet has decided on spending cuts of R25 billion and to raise R15 billion in revenue next year. He said:.
“Cabinet has taken a decision that we need to implement fiscal consolidation measures which will see 0.8% of GDP injected into the budget next year, which amounts to R40 billion in order to stabilize our debt and ensure it does not balloon beyond 60% of GDP in 2022.”
MPs were told that details will be announced in the budget in February.