South Africa is prepared to inject more money into its national student financial aid scheme this year to maintain black student numbers in higher education and avert threatened campus protests.
Universities and colleges are facing a tight financial year. Some previously disadvantaged universities and technikons are better off, but others have seen cash falls and student aid faces a cut from R300 million (Pounds 37.5 million) in 1996 to R250 million.
Education officials are hoping that a further R50 million will be forthcoming from the treasury to ease the situation. They believe the government is leaning towards more money for student loans, rather than a rise in university and technikon subsidies.
There have been small and sporadic student protests against the aid cut since registration began a few weeks ago, but bigger national demonstrations are threatened.
Speaking at a conference on the higher education green paper in Johannesburg, education minister Sibusiso Bengu said he was optimistic. "I don't believe the government is capable of cutting education in the way proposed," he said.
The education ministry will soon launch an investigation into student financial aid. The study will look at ways of using loan repayments or donor funding. Previous efforts by a government-appointed Eminent Persons Group to raise funds for student loans have failed. The scheme has not achieved its goal of helping up to 70,000 poor students a year.
Professor Bengu is determined that redress and equity funds should be available to disadvantaged institutions to begin bringing them up to the level of former white universities and technikons. He said his ministry had been taking "a lot of flak" over its policies of redress and equity from racists, who had resorted to "lying, blackmail and public insults" to halt the flow of funds from advantaged to disadvantaged institutions.