Finance Minister to shed more light on funding free higher education

Friday, February 16, 2018

Finance Minister is expected to clarify all aspects of financing free higher education during the Budget Speech next week.

President Cyril Ramaphosa made the announcement during his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) in Parliament on Friday.

It follows the historic announcement by former President Jacob Zuma on 16 December last year that government would phase in fully subsidised free higher education and training for poor and working class South Africans.

Starting this year, free higher education and training will be available to first year students from households with a gross combined annual income of up to R350 000.

“The Minister of Higher Education and Training will lead the implementation of this policy, while the Minister of Finance will clarify all aspects of the financing of the scheme during his Budget Speech next week.

“In addition to promoting social justice, an investment of this scale in higher education is expected to contribute to greater economic growth, reduce poverty, reduce inequality, enhance earnings and increase the competitiveness of our economy,” President Ramaphosa 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”;
  • Extending the provision  of free higher education and training to the children of the bottom 90% of South African households, provided that 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 (noting that there are a defined number of spaces at each institution determined by the institution’s approved enrolment plan);
  • Providing 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; and
  • Providing for NSFAS packages already allocated to returning existing university students in 2018, which will be converted from loans into full bursaries. 

More than 191 000 eligible for NSFAS grant 

The announcement of free higher education has seen a drastic increase in the number of students applying for funding, with more than 191 000 students eligible for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) grant recorded.

The students are eligible for the NSFAS grant in the category of a diploma and a certificate, to be done via TVET colleges.

By end of January, NSFAS had already received in excess of 300 000 applications for first year students for the 2018 academic year at universities and TVET colleges.

Central Applications Clearing House

 Students, who may not have applied at an institutions or NSFAS, and are looking for a space in the post school system are encouraged to use the Central Applications Clearing House (CACH) system.

The CACH service, which started operating in 2013, is a government online application portal designed for Grade 12 students and other citizens who are seeking admission into post-school education and training (PSET) for the first time.

The service opened early in January and will close on 28 February 2018. It operates daily from 6am to 7pm.

Young people seeking opportunities for 2018 can access CACH’s easy to use website at: or call the toll-free number on 0800 356 635.

They can also send an SMS with a name and ID to 49200 or to find CACH on Facebook:

For students who remain unclear about which career to follow, CACH provides advice and information through Higher Education and Training’s Khetha Career Development Service website at –

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