Fully subsidised bursaries for students from poor and working-class backgrounds present an opportunity for all South African universities and colleges to be at the forefront of change and empowerment, Higher Education and Training Minister Naledi Pandor said on Thursday as she introduced her department's budget to Parliament.
"Our universities and TVET (technical vocational education and training) colleges can ensure we overcome the legacy of the past and create a much more equal, empowered and productive society in the future," she said.
The department's budget for 2018/2019 is R89.9bn and its major components are university transfers of R38.6bn; R20.5bn for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS); R16.9bn for skills development; R10.7bn for TVET colleges and R2.3bn for community education and training colleges.
Over the medium-term expenditure framework, the combined total of additional funding for the post-school system amounts to R67bn, of which R33bn is the additional allocation to NSFAS for the introduction of the department's new bursary scheme for first-time students in universities.
There will also be an additional R10.3bn for TVET bursaries, Pandor announced earlier on Thursday at a media briefing before her budget vote speech.
This constitutes funding increases of 30% for universities, 100% for NSFAS and 45% for TVET colleges.
"The 2018 budget marks the beginning of a 'new dawn' for post-school education and training. It's a decisive response to calls for free education. It honours the call by the Congress of the People that the doors of learning and culture shall be opened," Pandor said in her speech, referring to the 1955 gathering in Kliptown.
"Through this funding, we signal that universities and colleges are expected to make a radical contribution to South Africa's development."
She said for the first time there would be fully subsidised bursary funding for poor and working-class students in public universities and colleges.
"As honourable members know, first-time entry students from families with an income up to R350 000 per annum are eligible to apply for the new DHET (Department of Higher Education and Training) bursary. The scheme will be phased in over five years.
The bursary conditions will include academic performance requirements as well as future community service. Very significantly, government has converted NSFAS loans of returning students to grants.
"Honourable members will be aware we have had teething problems with the administration of this new scheme. I wish to assure honourable members that we are working closely with NSFAS to iron these out."
DA MP Belinda Bozzoli noted the budget increase and that there was a new minister at the department.
"But does this mean higher education will improve? The answer is no," she said.
"There are two reasons for this: The ANC is incompetent, and the ANC is conservative.
"Jacob Zuma's hasty decision to grant free higher education for all new students for families earning less than R350 000 a year couldn't be implemented in the time given," she said.
Pandor's deputy, Buti Manamela, said Bozzoli had come with a "suitcase of nightmares" and that the decision for free higher education wasn't made by an individual, but by the ANC.
"This is a policy we will see through to the end," he said.
Pandor said in her reply: "I have never been called incompetent by anyone, and I'm not incompetent by any means."