MANY people say free tertiary education in South Africa is not possible‚ but researcher Sara Gon is not one of them.

The research fellow at the South African Institute for Race Relations says the government has to come up with a model that will make sure the private and public sectors contribute to government coffers.

"Generally‚ from the reading and listening that I’ve done‚ a great set of government wasteful expenditure could go into funding the students. They can do it‚ but they just don’t know where the money will come from and where the immediate problems are‚" said Gon.

"Ideally what you are looking at is possibly free funding‚ but with a view to reclaiming that money in different ways. There would nothing wrong with graduates working and paying back at a certain level or higher‚ paying an ongoing tax to repay for education‚" she added.

A study by PwC, a multinational professional services network‚ found that the cost of delivering university education in SA amounts to close to R50bn annually.

"The report of the ministerial committee reviewing university funding‚ recommended that capping of fees should not be implemented. The minister of higher education and training in his foreword to this report‚ expressed the view that ‘the capping of student fees is an area that I believe requires further attention’‚" PWC said in the report.

The researchers found that from 2010 to 2012 tuition fees at the 23 public universities in SA increased from R12.2bn to R15.5bn‚ while enrolments only increased 7% during the period. At the same time‚ student debt rose from R2.6bn to R3.4bn — an increase of 31% over two years.

However‚ the researchers found that universities would not be able to function as these institutions depended on tuition fees as a source of revenue; therefore a scrapping or capping of tuition fees would leave universities with a major revenue shortfall.

On the other hand‚ the Treasury submitted a report to the commission of inquiry into higher education and training‚ with regard to the feasibility of making higher education free in the country.

"Between 2017 and 2030‚ assuming inflation growth in allocations for universities and technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges, to compensate for no fees will require R552.5bn in additional funding and R90.9bn in additional funding for TVET colleges‚" the Treasury said in the report in June.

Protests have erupted across South African universities following the announcement by the Department of Higher Education and Training this week to hike the fees up to 8% in the coming year.

Some universities have pronounced on their fee hike while others will make their announcement before the end of the year.

TMG Digital