President Jacob Zuma has announced that government will subsidise free higher education for poor and working-class students.
He said in a statement on Saturday that 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 the 2018 academic year.
"Having amended the definition of poor and working-class students, the 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," Zuma said.
"Students categorised as poor and working class, under the new definition, will be funded and supported through government grants not loans."
This effectively means that Zuma has overruled the recommendations of the Higher Commission into the Feasibility of Fee-Free Higher Education and Training.
Zuma's announcement comes on the day the ANC's watershed 54th elective conference is expected to begin. A new leader of the party will be elected in the conference.
The Higher Commission had previously found that there is currently no capacity for the state to provide free tertiary education to all students.
The report recommended that undergraduate and postgraduate students studying at both public and private universities and colleges, regardless of their family background, should be funded through a cost-sharing model of government guaranteed "Income-Contingency Loans", sourced from commercial banks.
The commission recommended that, through the model, commercial banks would issue government guaranteed loans to students.