Police stepped in on Wednesday to marshall a group of university students who had descended on Parliament where Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba was delivering the 2017 Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS).
The protesting students eventually found their way blocked by police in riot gear who then pushed them back towards student residences at the Cape University of Technology. There were reports that at least two students were arrested.
By late afternoon, the students, mainly from CPUT and the University of Cape Town, were having a meeting at the CPUT campus while police monitored proceedings from about 100 metres away.
The students are demanding the removal of financial exclusion barriers as well as free “decolonised” education.
The MTBPS on Wednesday revealed glaring gaps in funding for the country’s students, this despite the ruling party, the African National Congress earlier this year vowing that free higher education could become a reality as early as 2018.
According to the MTBPS, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) in 2016 gave 225, 950 university students with a family income of less than R122,000 financial assistance, which amounted to 30 percent of undergraduate students.
“If NSFAS were to cover the full cost of study for the 30 percent of undergraduates who currently qualify, the scheme would require R10.7 billion in the 2018 academic year, in addition to the R11.4 billion currently available,” National Treasury said.
Proposals to extend cover to middle-income households was being considered, but data was currently unreliable.
Currently NSFAS loans and bursaries only cover a portion of the full costs of study.
The funding shortfall were government to fully fund the 30 percent of undergraduates would grow from R10.7 billion in 2018 to R12.6 billion in 2019, R14.8 billion in 2020 and R17.3 billion in 2021.