The UDM wants President Jacob Zuma and his Cabinet to urgently spell out his plan for free higher education to avoid a “commotion” at registration.
“One can argue that President Zuma’s announcement of free tertiary education for students who can’t afford it, is a populist Hail Mary pass; but the United Democratic Movement (UDM) believes there is merit in the idea,” the party’s leader, Bantu Holomisa, said in a statement on Tuesday.
On the eve of the ANC national elective conference at Nasrec last month, Zuma announced that free higher education would be made available to students from households where there is a combined annual income of R350 000.
According to Holomisa, the implementation of such an expanded programme could be justified economically, with free education being a “strategic economic impetus”.
He added that it was an investment by the state in the creation of a larger tax base.
“We have to keep in mind that three years of tertiary investment leads to forty years of tax revenue from graduate incomes,” he said.
He warned, however, that the challenge would be fair and orderly implantation.
“It should not be assumptive and aggressive for incitement in pursuit of political positioning. It is therefore a little unsettling that the president had apparently taken everyone off guard with the announcement and he seemingly did not consult universities,” he said.
“University capacity, which is limited, must be respected in service of effective and efficient education for the greater good.”
“President Zuma and his Cabinet must urgently spell out this plan in detail to avoid a commotion at registration; already universities have issued statements saying they will not accept walk-in registration.
“We certainly do not want to see another situation where police resources are stretched to handle disgruntled students should this promise not materialise.”
After Zuma’s announcement, which did not include details on where the money would come from, Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba said the details would be revealed when he tables the budget, which should be in February.
“Surely the president must realise that it will be too late to wait for the finance minister to spell out where the money will come from in February,” Holomisa said.
“To compound matters, university capacity must be respected in service of effective and efficient education for the greater good.”
Last week, EFF leader Julius Malema said former matriculants who passed well and who would like to further their education must report to the academic institution of their choice in 2018.
Furthermore, the UDM wants students’ progress to be monitored and managed, once free education is implemented, similar to the manner in which investments are managed.
“Unsuccessful students must be removed from the programme. This litmus test should be due every semester,” said Holomisa.