The Universities Association, Universities South Africa, says the announcement on free higher education is concerning, as there was no consultation with key role players before the presidency released a statement.

The association represents over 20 public universities.

President Jacob Zuma announced far-reaching policy changes in which higher education will be fully funded for students from poor and working class homes.

Over 90% of students will benefit from the changes.

Eligible students will be funded through grants, which will include tuition, study materials, meals, accommodation and transport.

Chief Executive Officer Professor Ahmed Bawa says they are also worried about the feasibility Zuma’s plan.

“What we are concerned about is that there was absolutely no consultation about it. That is something we are deeply concerned about. There should have been a discussion with universities, with the policy advisers, with students and so on. That has not happened. Having said that, we think that this has some positive elements. The big question is ‘will they be able to roll out what needs to be rolled out in 2018?”

University students have shown mixed reactions about the announcement.

“I’m feeling happy. This is great news for all of us,” says one of the students.

Economists say the decision may lead to a further downgrade of South Africa.

Economist Dawie Roodt says the funds to support the president’s decision will probably come from other departments, increased taxes or further borrowing.  Roodt says the timing of this decision must also be questioned.

“Why now during this election time for the ANC’s new leadership and I think this is a very populist move by the president and it sounds a bit sinister doing it, especially at this time. We cannot afford it. That is just the reality and I also think the president probably threw whoever is going to take over from him under the bus because once you’ve made an announcement like this you simply cannot overturn a decision like this. So I’m afraid that whoever is going to take over as president has a big problem on his hand or her hands.”

By Jamaine Krige & Lynne Arendse

President Zuma on Higher education fees (Text)