Zuma announces free university education for majority


President Zuma has made a surprise announcement that poor and middle class students will be fully funded for university and college education.

In a statement on Saturday the President has announced changes to the funding of post-school education but gave no details on how the policy would be funded.  The changes are expected to cost R12,4 Billion in 2018.

With changes to the definition of 'poor and middle class', over 90% of SA households will now have access to free higher education.

The new programme will begin next year and be phased in over 5 years. NSFAS loans will be converted to grants that don't have to be paid back. The grants will cover tuition, study material, food, transport and accommodation.

The Director General of the Department of Higher Education and Training was confident that the institutions would be ready to roll our these plans at the start of 2018. He praised the announcement as it was putting more investment into the system and would ensure that education would be accessable for more poor families.

This decision is a culmination of many engagements with the inter-ministerial committee and other departments and roleplayers. The DG was confident that universities and colleges had already been in discussion with his department ahead of the announcement so would be able to implement the policy for next year's intake.

There will be no fee increased next year for students from households earning up to R600 000 per year.

The statement from the President was released just ahead of the ANC's elective conference where the party's next leader will be chosen.



We reaffirm that education remains an apex priority of Government’s pro-poor policies and a central pillar of our fight against the socio-economic legacy of apartheid and colonialism and its resultant triple challenge of race, gender and class-based poverty, inequality and unemployment as outlined in the National Development Plan. Failure to accelerate equitable access and success in higher education and training directly threatens the achievability of this key objective and everything we have built thus far.
Government will increase subsidies to universities from 0.68% to 1% of the GDP over the next five years as recommended by the Heher Commission and in line with comparable economies in order to address the overall gross underfunding of the sector. This will be done in order to kick-start a skills revolution towards and in pursuit of the radical socio-economic transformation programme as outlined during the 2017 State of the Nation Address.

• The provision of fully subsidised free education and training will be extended to all current and future poor and working class South African students at all public TVET colleges starting in 2018 and phased-in over a period of five years.  

• All poor and working class South African students enrolled at public TVET Colleges will be funded through grants not loans.  

• For TVET colleges, full cost of study will include tuition fee, prescribed study material, meals, accommodation and/or transport.  

• The government will further invest in the training and development of existing TVET staff and the   recruitment of additional qualified staff to improve the quality of teaching and learning at TVET Colleges.  
• Funds will also be directed towards the improvement of infrastructure in the TVET sector.  


• As a result of this substantial increase in subsidy to universities, there will be no tuition fee increment for students from households earning up to R600 000 a year during the 2018 academic year.  

• Noting our nation’s staggering levels of income inequality and considering the definition of Poor and Working Class Students that has remained stagnant and outdated despite the escalating cost of living and studying, and in order to maximize the developmental impact of our pro-poor higher education policies, the definition of poor and working class students will now refer to “currently enrolled TVET Colleges or University students from South African households with a combined annual income of up to R350 000” by 2018 academic year. The Minister of Higher Education and Training shall revise this quantum periodically in consultation with the Minister of Finance.  

• Having amended the definition of Poor and Working class students, government will now introduce fully subsidised free higher education and training for poor and working class South African undergraduate students, starting in 2018 with students in their first year of study at our public universities. Students categorised as poor and working class, under the new definition, will be funded and supported through government grants not loans.  

• NSFAS packages already allocated to existing NSFAS students in their further years of study will be converted from loans to 100% grants effective immediately.  

• This policy intervention will enable government to extend fully subsidized free higher education to youth from well over 90% of South African households. Duly, from 2018 onwards, eligible South African children of the unemployed, social grant recipients, South Africans earning below a minimum wage, domestic workers, farm workers, mine workers and entry level civil servants such as teachers, nurses, policemen, municipal workers, security guards, refuse collectors and informal traders amongst others will now access public universities and TVET colleges for free through grants provided by their government. 

• In order to achieve its intended targets of access and success, fully subsidized full cost of study will include Tuition Fee, Prescribed Study Material, Meals, Accommodation and/or Transport.