Fees commission gets one step closer to higher education funding

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South Africa is one step closer to figuring out a solution to higher education funding as the commission of inquiry wraps up its public hearings.

The Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training commenced with its last set of public hearings today. Its focus was the broader social, economic and financial implications of implementing a fee-free higher education and training in South Africa.

Together with the Unemployment Insurance Fund, the Government Employees Pension Fund as well as the Public Investment Corporation, individual economists and investment advisers the commission is working to find any opportunities for funding students in higher education.

“The objective is to find out whether any strategies could be developed to avail some of the funds to assist in the higher education and training challenges” said fees commission spokesperson, Musa Ndwandwe.

“We are very close to concluding the public hearings and the last two months leading to the June deadline will be dedicated to the compilation of the final report to the president.”

The potential sources for funding would come from both the private sector and the public sector.

In the public sector

The commission will look at the Public Investment Corporation, development finance institutions and the government employees’ pension fund.

In the private sector

The possible investors in the private sector can be banks, corporate through corporate social investment funds, BEE Skills Development Points and pension funds. The BEE points would be organised in a way where companies that don’t meet the BEE requirements are fined and the fines contribute to funding higher education.

A recommendation put forward by Abel Sithole, principal executive officer of the government employees’ pension fund was: “Where it is accepted that beneficiaries will never be found and the benefits will therefore remain perpetually unclaimed, there may be merit in considering the use of this category of unclaimed benefits for some public interest initiative such as funding education.”

However, a concern with this option was that unclaimed benefits are finite but education funding was ongoing.

The final public hearing will take place on Wednesday, March 3.

The commission was established in January 2016, to investigate the feasibility of free higher education in South Africa. Last year President Jacob Zuma extended the deadline for the fees commission to complete its report to June 30.

The commission is approaching the final stages of public hearings but are still accepting submissions from the public and other stakeholders until May 15 2017.

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