Higher education and training Minister Blade Nzimande has emphasised that free higher education for all will not be possible in SA’s current socio-economic environment.

Nzimande, while speaking during a debate in Parliament on Tuesday evening on whether free higher education for all is possible‚ said those who can afford to pay must pay.

“Those who are saying government must provide funding for all are actually arguing to further privilege those already privileged. It will be the poor subsidising the rich‚” he said.

Tensions have been running high at universities across the country as students continue their campaign for no-fee increases and free education.

He said there was no country in the world other than Cuba that could afford free education for all.

“[This call] for free higher education is a reactionary call‚ even if its sounds progressive. Cuba is a socialist society and there is no private accumulation [of wealth] by certain sections of the population.”

Last week‚ President Jacob Zuma released a draft report on the feasibility of free higher education.

The report‚ by a commission of inquiry he established in June‚ suggests that students should pay back money if they receive assistance from the state.

“Because higher education and training produces substantial long term benefits for both the state and a successful student‚ persons who enjoy fee-free higher education should be treated as loan recipients‚” the report said.

It also noted that a reasonable obligation to repay in full or in part would arise when a certain level of income was earned. The final report is expected to be completed in June 2017.

Nzimande said the government‚ through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS)‚ was committed to providing maximum support to poor students.

He said the government was exploring ways to provide support to the so-called “missing middle” students — those deemed to be too rich to receive funding from the government’s loan and bursary scheme‚ and too poor to pay for their own fees.

The department had received the Ikusasa (the future) Student Financial Aid Programme report which will address the funding needs of poor and “missing middle” students — the main driver of the Fees Must Fall protests.

Sizwe Nxasana‚ who chairs the ministerial task team appointed by Nzimande to develop a support and funding model for poor and missing middle students‚ has said Ikusasa will seek to encourage the public to put in money to support students.

Part of the plan is to appeal to citizens to buy coupons from commercial banks.

The coupon or student support investment scheme would entail people making deposits into savings accounts‚ which would then be used to finance needy students.

Investors would earn “a little bit of interest” due to students repaying their loans once they graduated and found employment.