Fees struggle not over yet

2015-10-29 06:00
Lehlohonolo Nyetanyane, Social activist Foto:

Lehlohonolo Nyetanyane, Social activist Foto:

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UNIVERSITY students from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) embarked on a #FeesMustFall campaign demanding that the proposed 10,5% fees increment for the 2016 academic year be suspended.

What started as #WitsFeesMustFall soon escalated to the University of Cape Town (UCT), the University of Stellenbosch (Maties) and the University of the Free State (UFS) becoming a nationwide #FeesMustFall by all universities.

The bone of contention by Wits students was that they came from under-privileged backgrounds of single parenthood where parents hardly receive 6% salary increases from their employers.

University rectors and officials from the department of Higher Education adopted a nonchalant approach to the #FeesMustFall campaign which added fuel to the fire until things fell apart.

Only after students had vandalised property, clashed with police and invaded the parliamentary precinct did officials wake up to the most rebellious post-apartheid student activism.

One of the major propellants of #FeesMustFall was the eighth principle of the Freedom Charter which proclaims “Doors of learning and culture shall be opened for all.” This principle further elaborates “Education shall be free, compulsory, universal and equal for all children; higher education and technical training shall be opened to all by means of state allowances and scholarships awarded on the basis of merit. The colour bar in cultural life, in sport and in education shall be abolished.”

As the only surviving custodian of the Freedom Charter, the ANC should have grabbed an opportunity to engage students on the 8th principle and elucidate on how the organisation hopes to have this ideal realised.

It should have also complemented the strides made through the Tertiary Education Fund of South Africa (Tefsa), which later became the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS). The students’ march to Luthuli House, the Union Buildings and the rebellious invasion of the parliamentary precinct should not be misconstrued as an attack against the ANC.

In the face of unrelenting capitalist academia, students had to seek recourse from the party they elected to lead government. Though disappointed, students were willing to grant an audience to Jacob Zuma, rather than to any other political leader.

True to their struggle, the students refused to be used as political pawns by the forces of anarchy whose aim was to advance the vested interests of political prima donnas..

The 0% fees increment announced by Zuma on 23 October is a victory to determined students on their well marshalled struggle. In my books, 0% increment is a temporary reprieve – registration and tuition fees still remain exorbitant at South African universities. Most poor students are still systematically excluded by high fees and plunge further into what they call “black debt.” In 2014, Global Financial Integrity reported that South Africa loses R147 billion per annum due to illicit capital flight X this money could have made free education possible.

What 0% reprieve has not answered however is: will NFSAS inject more funds to enable students to service “black debt” with universities? What impact will 0% increment have on the salary increments of poor non-academic staff at universities?

University councils must give an account what informs their above-inflation fees increment when they produce unemployable graduates en masse who add a further burden to the state. Government should streamline its funding to universities in tandem with pertinent products that add value to the country’s economy.

A microscopic view should be taken of the annual perks that university chancellors receive. The competition commission should also look for possible collusion on fees-fixing by universities. Until then, the struggle over fees will continue.

PULL QUOTE: University councils must account what informs their above-inflation fees increment when they produce unemployable graduates en masse who add further burden to the state. Government should streamline its funding to universities in tandem with pertinent produce that adds value to the country’s economy.

A microscopic look should be taken into the annual perks that university chancellors recieve. The competition commission should check for signs of any possible collusion on price-fixing by universities.

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