President Jacob Zuma’s surprise announcement that the government will provide free higher education to the poor has sparked fear of a budgetary meltdown and evoked visions of universities being stormed by mobs of school leavers demanding to be enrolled regardless of their academic capacity. While the December 16 declaration that grants will be provided to cover tuition and living costs for undergraduate students from households earning less than R350,000 a year side-stepped the normal budget process and sent the Treasury scrambling to find the money, predictions of a doomsday scenario now look overblown. The new plan will be phased in, and estimates of the funding gap for 2018 range between R12bn and R15bn. The money can be found if the government prioritises tertiary education, says Renfrew Christie, former dean of research at the University of the Western Cape. "Unfunded mandates happen everywhere. It is part of the budget debate and is not unusual. The steps forward are often pai...

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