Changes to the post-school education and training system will be undertaken in a fiscally sustainable manner, says Higher Education and Training Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize.
Briefing media in Pretoria on Thursday on the 2018 registration process at tertiary institutions, the Minister said this meant rolling out reforms at a measured pace and reprioritising funding within existing budgets.
President Jacob Zuma announced free higher education and training for poor and working-class families on 16 December 2017. The announcement followed debates on what was to be done with the rising cost of higher education in South Africa after the #FeesMustFall campaign of 2015.
Minister Mkhize said the policy decision, which will be phased in over a five-year period, entails extending and strengthening government's support for poor students to enter public universities and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges to include the working classes.
"It does this by lifting the threshold to qualify for financial assistance to students from South African households with a combined annual income of up to R350 000 per annum."
The policy decision entails effectively changing the definition of the "poor and working class" to include families with household incomes of up to R350 000 per annum and extends the provision of free higher education and training to the children of the bottom 90% of South African households, provided they meet the academic admission criteria and requirements of the TVET colleges or universities, and that they have applied for and been offered a place to study at the institution.
Minister Mkhize said it should be noted that there are a defined number of spaces at each institution, determined by the institution's approved enrolment plan.
The announcement by the President further provides for full bursaries for tuition and study materials to qualifying poor and working class South African students at public TVET colleges and universities, and subsidised accommodation or transport capped at specific levels for those who qualify, starting with first time entry students in 2018, and phased-in over a period of five years.
It also means providing for National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) packages already allocated to returning existing university students in 2018, provided they meet the academic progression requirements, to be converted from loans into full bursaries.
Minister Mkhize said NSFAS has already received in excess of 300 000 applications for first year students for the 2018 academic year at universities and TVET colleges.
"Government assures South Africans that all applicants in possession of a firm offer from a university or TVET college will be assessed for funding using the revised criteria. All those in possession of a firm offer from a university or TVET college, but who did not apply for NSFAS funding, will be assisted [and] students who may not have applied at an institutions or NSFAS and are looking for a space in the post-school system will be assisted through the Central Applications Clearing House (CACH)," said the Minister.
She said students are who are in possession of firm offers from universities or TVET colleges but did not apply to NSFAS for funding, who qualify for funding according to the revised criteria, will be assisted.
"The phasing in of this policy will ensure the sustainability of government financial resources, while simultaneously ensuring that improved access to post-school education and training for students is guaranteed.
"This approach allows government to gradually phase in fully subsidised free higher education for eligible poor and working class students year-on-year in a fiscally sustainable manner," she said.
Students must, however, take into cognisance that universities and TVET colleges' registration processes are managed independently from the department. This is done by individual institutions in accordance with their policies, admission criteria and enrolment plans.
Walk-ins strongly discouraged
Minister Mkhize said since the tragic incident at the University of Johannesburg in 2012, where a life was lost, walk-in applications at institutions have been discouraged.
"... Through the Apply Now! campaign, which runs every year from March through to September in conjunction with the Ketha Career Advice and DHET Career Development Services, all prospective students have been encouraged to make informed career choices and apply on time."
CACH making applications easier
Students who have been declined offers at universities should approach the CACH service, which is an ideal route to find a study space that is still available at another institution.
CACH is a government online application portal designed for Grade 12 students and other citizens, who are seeking admission into post-school education and training for the first time.
It assists prospective students by sharing their National Senior Certificate results with public and private further and higher education institutions across the country, including TVET colleges, universities, Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) and registered private higher institutions.
Institutions with open study places, technical training opportunities or apprenticeship slots then make them available to the most suitable applicants on the CACH database.
Prospective students can access CACH's easy to use website at cach.dhet.gov.za or call the toll-free number on 0800 356 635. It is also possible to send an SMS with a name and ID to 49200 or to find CACH on Facebook: www.facebook.com/CACH_S.A.
CACH opens on 5 January 2018 following the release of the 2017 National Senior Certificate results and closes on 28 February 2018.