Treasury flags cost uncertainties around free higher education

Government has promised that first-year students who come from households which earn less than R350 000 a year can go to university free of charge.

University students marching to the Union Buildings for free, decolonised and quality education on 20 October 2016. Picture: Christa Eybers/EWN

CAPE TOWN - Treasury says there are many cost uncertainties around free higher education.

Fifty-seven billion rand has been allocated in the 2018 budget to fund free education for first-year university and college students, following an announcement by former president Jacob Zuma in December.

But Treasury has told Parliament's finance committees on Friday it's not sure whether the allocation will be enough.

Government has promised that first-year students who come from households which earn less than R350,000 a year can go to university free of charge.

But Treasury’s acting head of budgets Ian Stuart says they don’t know how many students fall within this bracket.

He says it’s easier to identify poor students who already obtain financial assistance through the National Students Financial Aid Scheme, who will now have their loans converted into a bursary.

“There’s even uncertainty about how many students will be affected by this change.”

Along with the high public service wage bill, the poor financial position of state-owned companies and the Road Accident Fund, Treasury has identified the implementation of fee-free higher education as a major risk to the economy and the fiscus.

(Edited by Shimoney Regter)