Education in South Africa is compulsory for nine years, from ages seven to fifteen (South Africa’s School Act, 1996: Chapter 2, Art.3). Education is not free: the governing body of each public school must prepare a budget and present it to a general meeting of parents. However, the governing body must also establish equitable criteria and procedures for the total, partial or conditional exemption of parents who are unable to pay school fees (South Africa’s School Act, Chapter 4, Art.39). No learner may be refused admission to a public school in case parents or guardians are unable to pay (Chapter 2, Art.5).
Total government expenditure on education in 2018 was US$ 18.5 billion, corresponding to 6.16% of GDP and 18.87% of total government expenditure that year. The The school age population is 12.7 million (7.8 million in primary and 4.9 million in secondary education), out of a total population of 57.78 million in 2018.
Households spend ZAR 1356 (US$ 78) on average per year on education (2005-2006), corresponding to 2.4% of household expenditure. These expenditures are dedicated to tuition, boarding fees, textbooks and school supplies. There are 16.9 million households in South Africa (2016).
State subsidies to independent schools (i.e. private schools) are permitted, but not guaranteed. Regarding subsidy allocation, independent schools registered for at least a year that charge fees of at most 2.5 times the provincial average estimate per learner (PAEPL) may apply for a subsidy. Subsidies are paid on a five-point scale. The highest point corresponds to 60% of the PAEPL, and the lowest point corresponds to 15% of PAEPL.
The education financing mechanism is highly decentralized in South Africa: the National Department of Basic Education consumes less than 3% of the overall resources, which are transferred to the provinces. Regarding budget assignment, there are two types of revenue divisions: 1) Vertical division of revenue between national, provincial and local spheres of the government. In 2016/2017, the national share was 65% of the total, the provincial share was 31%, and the local share was 4% of the total. 2) Horizontal division of revenue at the province level. Provincial Budgets are calculated on the basis of the Provincial Equitable Shares Formula (PES). The education component of the PES carries the largest weighting (48%) and is made up of two factors, namely the size of the school-age cohort (5–17 year-olds) and the actual school enrolment. Provincial Education Budgets in 2016-2017 were ZAR 213.3 billion (US$ 12.26 billion), of which 79% is allocated to public ordinary schools, 6% to infrastructure development, 3% to public special school education (mainly an introduction of a conditional grant to assist provinces in expanding special needs services for children with disabilities), 2% to early childhood development, 1% to independent school subsidies, and 9% to other expenses. This formula does not take in account the unequal costs of providing education in rural and poor settings and the country has the conditional grants scheme, although it represents only 10-20% of total education funding. The provincial equitable share accounted for 89.7% of the basic education and the rest is financed by the National Department of Basic Education expenditure (2.8%) and conditional grants (7.5%).
Education policies in South Africa are established in three strategic documents:
- At the broader national planning level, the Medium-term Strategic Framework 2014-2019 that set a group of initiatives related to improving quality education.
- At the mid-term strategic educational planning level, the Schooling 2025 plan (maintained until 2030) establishes that by 2030, learners are able to attend every day and on time (accessibility).
A short-term strategy, the yearly Action Plan 2019 is based on 27 goals, including the following on access and equality: all schools receive at least minimum funding per learner levels and financial transparency and efficiency are guaranteed (Goal 23), promoting access to public services (health, poverty alleviation, psychosocial support) (Goal 25), access to the minimum set of textbooks and workbooks (Goal 19).
Conditional grants are funds given by the National Treasury to the National Department of Basic Education, to pay for specific programs and activities that will be implemented in the provinces and by local governments. Conditional grants represent 7.5% of the total basic education budget in 2016/2017. Conditional grants concern infrastructure, HIV/AIDS programs and school meals. The National School Nutrition Program Conditional Grant (NSNP) aims to provide nutritious meals to learners in all schools. The program has an allocation of over ZAR 5 billion (US $290 million, or 1.6% of total education expenditure), and provide meals to around 9 million learners. In 2015, 80.2% of learners had access to the NSNP.
The Education Laws Amendment Act of 2005 provided a system to categorize schools according to poverty rankings. The National Norms and Standards for School Funding (NNSSF) regulates non-personnel funding in South Africa, providing funding to schools serving poor communities (quintile 1 to 3), for non-personnel expenses: textbooks, stationery, laboratory equipment, school maintenance, IT and Internet access, and essential services. In 2009, all schools in quintiles 1, 2 and 3 were classified as “no-fee schools”. No-fee schools receive a minimum per-learner amount of funding. In 2016, Q1, Q2 and Q3 schools receive at least ZAR 1175 (US $ 67.5) per learner, Q4 schools receive at least ZAR 588 (US $ 34) per learner and Q5 schools receive ZAR 203 (US$ 12) per learner. In 2016, 65.3% of learners do not pay school fees from the no-fee school funding policy, and 87.5% of schools were no-fee schools under this funding policy scheme. Learners continue to bear educational costs by means of uniforms, books and transportation. Furthermore, there are been reports of non-fee schools continue to charge school fees. No information was found on the total expenditure by provinces on the program, however, if we consider average per-learner amounts, the total expenditure reaches ZAR 5.4 billion (US$ 310 million), corresponding to 1.68% of total education expenditure.
In 2006, the Department of Basic Education amended the regulations related to exemptions of parents from payment of school fees in public schools. Parents may apply for partial or total school-fee exemptions. Full exemption is granted if school fees represent more than 10% of parents’ annual gross income. There are automatically granted exemptions for orphans in orphanages, child-headed households, learners whose parents receive the Child Support Grant, and learners under the care of foster parents. In 2014, 7.2% of learners benefitted from fee reductions or partial bursaries.
Child Support Grant
This programme is provided by the Social Development Ministry and is aimed at lower-income households to assist parents with the costs of the basic needs of their child. To apply, the primary care giver must be a South African citizen, permanent resident or refugee, the child/children must been born after 31 December 1993, and not be in a care institution. Parents or caregivers should not earn more than ZAR 48 000 a year (US $ 2762) if single, or ZAR 96 000 (US$ 5525) for married couples. The child support grant is currently ZAR 440 (US$ 25) per month per child. Program expenditure was US$ 5.3 billion in 2012/2013 out of a social development budget of US$ 11.9 billion in 2009/2010 (corresponding to 45% of total welfare expenditure) and reached 10 million children in 2009/2010 (20% of the population for that year). While there is no condition related to education, the grant is said to have positive educational outcomes.