The Cost of Equality: Analyzing the Unforeseen Financial Strains of Fee-Free Higher Education in South Africa

Sakhiseni Joseph Yende ORCID iD and Zama M. Mthombeni ORCID iD

Issue: Vol.4  No.11  Article 6  pp.1380 – 1390
DOI: |   Published online 17th November, 2023
© 2023 The Author(s). This is an open access article under the CCBY license (


In the past, many South African students found it difficult to pursue higher education due to the high expense of tuition, which also restricted their prospects for development on both a personal and professional level. Fee-free education has helped to level the playing field and provide equal access to education, regardless of an individual’s financial background. Evidently, financially disadvantaged students now have better access to higher education, and this is attributed to fee-free education in South Africa. However, budgetary restrictions exist in South Africa, and the government’s finances are put under strain by the country’s policy of free public education for all pupils. The purpose of this article was to discuss unforeseen financial constraints in South African higher education due to fee-free education. In this article, a qualitative content analysis was employed which was grounded on analysing the existing scholarly literary writings. This paper established that enrolment rates in universities and colleges all around South Africa have increased significantly because of fee-free education. This research adds to the continuing discourse concerning the expenses tied to achieving equality and the unanticipated financial pressures stemming from tuition-free higher education in South Africa.

Keywords: Fee-Free Higher Education, Government Finances, Access To Higher Education, Funding

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Dr. Sakhiseni Joseph Yende is an emerging distinguished young scholar currently affiliated with the University of Western Cape in South Africa, where he serves as a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of African Language Studies within the Forensic Linguistics and Multilingualism division. His academic trajectory has been marked by remarkable achievements and substantial contributions to various aspects of the performing arts, with a particular emphasis on opera.

Zama Mabel Mthombeni is the Chief Researcher in Equitable Education & Economies, Human Sciences Research Council, Durban, South Africa. She is also a PHD Candidate Development studies, School of Built Environmental Studies, University of Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa. Her core research focus is on higher education policy and governance; African Philosophy, Social Justice and Inclusive Education, and Transformative Education (Recolonization, Africanization). She is building her expertise in African, International and Comparative Higher Education and Scholarship.

Yende, Sakhiseni Joseph and Mthombeni, Zama M. “The Cost of Equality: Analyzing the Unforeseen Financial Strains of Fee-Free Higher Education in South Africa.E-Journal of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences 4, no.11 (2023): 1380 – 1390.

© 2023 The Author(s). Published and Maintained by Noyam Journals. This is an open access article under the CCBY license (