Free education for the poor should become a reality sooner rather than later, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said on Thursday.
Much had already been done to alleviate the financial strain higher education put on poorer students, he said in response to a memorandum by SA Students' Congress (Sasco) demanding free education.
"Loans and bursaries administered by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) have been expanded substantially over the last three years."
Funding for loans and bursaries tripled from R2.3 billion in 2008 to R6 billion last year. An amount of R50 million was also made available for post-graduate scholarships, and R63 million for disabled students.
Sasco proposed that free education be funded by corporate tax, particularly derived from monopoly industries. It also wanted universities to stop withholding students' results if they could not afford to pay their fees.
Other demands included the disbanding of the council and management of the University of Free State, and for Nzimande to play a stronger role in the transformation of tertiary education institutions.
"We actually share Sasco's concerns relating to improving the living and learning environments for students at higher education and training institutions."
Tuition fees, however, were determined by university councils rather than the ministry of higher education.
He denied Sasco's assertion that the ministerial working group on free education was duplicating the work of the NSFAS review committee.
"Sasco is also welcome to invite the department's officials to your meetings, in order to assist you to develop a better understanding of my vision and objectives on post-