South Africa has long offered free education but it has not reached everyone who needs it, says Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande when he briefed the Fees Commission here Thursday.
Nzimande has also clarified that free education for all would not happen anytime soon. He told the Fees Commission that government subsidies to universities now benefits all students.
The minister said loans under the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) to students who successfully complete their third year of university studies are automatically converted into a full bursary for that year, which amounted to free education.
"Some students are on NSFAS and they don't have to pay a cent back and so education is free for them. Free education is government policy, and it has been government policy for some time now. We are committed to this, but funding only for the poor."
Nzimande said it was simply not true that the country's Freedom Charter and that the ruling African National Congress (ANC) government promised free education for all.
"Read the education section of the Freedom Charter; it does not talk about free education for all, but only for the poor and NSFAS is already providing for the poor."
Nzimande said the government did not have tangible solutions yet but agreed that they needed assistance.
Nzimande praised the "Fees-Must-Fall" student movement for raising the issue of Higher Education funding shortfalls, but said free education for all was not on the horizon just yet.
Meanwhile protests, chaos and violent clashes again gripped several universities around the country on Thursday, but relative calm returned to others, as the academic programme continued.
The situation at North West University's Mahikeng campus remained calm, but tense, with several students being arrested. The university says it will look into the police's conduct. Students allege police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades into their residences.
Another building was set alight at the University of KwaZulu Natal's Westville campus. Two police officers were injured by rocks allegedly thrown by students and several students were arrested.
In Cape Town, 26-year-old Byron Dick faces a myriad of charges, including attempted murder. He is accused of torching the Cape Peninsula University of Technology campus' control room. Two security guards were allegedly locked inside the burning building and suffered smoke inhalation.
However, the Democratic Alliance party in Port Elizabeth in Eastern Cape Province believes corruption and poor allocation of NSFAS funds are the main reasons deserving students are not benefiting. It says it has presented measures to parliament on how monies could be better utilised, but this was rejected by the ruling ANC.
The party has launched an online portal to allow unfunded qualifying students to raise their concerns.
Source: NAM NEWS NETWORK.