We must together organise the civics, social movements and labour behind the banner of free education.
As a result of the #FeesMustFall protests, former president Jacob Zuma declared, in December 2017, that for “Poor and working-class [undergraduate] students, government will now introduce fully subsidised free higher education and training.” He defined beneficiaries as “households with a combined annual income of up to R350,000” (although “the Minister of Higher Education and Training shall revise this quantum periodically in consultation with the Minister of Finance”, which has not yet happened to our satisfaction).
Zuma should have promised that this investment in our future leaders and for improved skills would apply immediately, for all current students at the time, thus addressing the huge crisis of inherited debt that leaves so many students now facing financial exclusion. He did not, and instead phased in the number of beneficiaries.
In 2017 there were 226,000 students on the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), most of whom were borrowing. That has risen thanks to the #FeesMustFall victory, so in 2020-21 there were 396,000 students mainly getting bursaries. In 2020-21, expecting free education, the student beneficiaries of NSFAS should have risen higher, to 426,000. In 2022-23, however,…