"As a result‚ this is the fastest-growing spending category‚ with an annual average growth of 13.7 percent." Gigaba said the "fee-free higher education" was aimed at new first-year students from poor and working-class families‚ with a combined family income of under R350‚000 per annum.
The free tertiary education would be rolled out in the subsequent years to cover all years of study.
Returning students who had received financial support from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme would see their loans converted into bursaries.
"This is an important step forward in breaking the cycle of poverty and confronting youth unemployment‚ as labour statistics show that unemployment is lowest for tertiary graduates‚" said Gigaba.
Turning to primary and high school education‚ Gigaba said R3.8-billion had been set aside in the next three years to replace 82 "inappropriate and unsafe schools" and to provide water to 325 school and sanitation to a further 286 schools.
The schools nutrition would also continue to be in place at a cost R21.7-billion over the medium term‚ providing meals to 9 million poor children at 19‚800 schools.