#FeesMustFall: State was warned 5 years ago

2015-10-23 10:28
Blade Nzimande. Picture: Nelius Rademan

Blade Nzimande. Picture: Nelius Rademan

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Student leaders warned Parliament five years ago that inadequate student funding was a ticking time bomb.

Parliamentary information shows that representatives of the student councils of four universities appeared before the parliamentary portfolio committee on higher education on November 8 2010.

“All the SRCs [student representative councils] noted that financial support posed a challenge,” read the minutes of the meeting.

The students from Stellenbosch University emphasised the problem of excessive increases in tuition fees and said many students had to study and work in order to survive. Middle-income students also needed financial assistance, the students said.

“Another problem was that many students were financially excluded because of the inefficiency of the National Students Financial Aid Scheme,” the students from the University of the Western Cape said.

The pleas of students were apparently not a strong enough call for Parliament and the government to take action. On Wednesday drama unfolded at the same Parliament where students five years ago pleaded for help.

After students of the #FeesMustFall movement broke through the gates of Parliament, a former student leader who was a member of the former student delegation to Parliament, responded on Facebook: “If you are wondering why students are making universities and streets ungovernable, I will tell you that no one listened to us when we didn’t,” Roné McFarlane, former University of Stellenbosch student, said.

She said students at the university protested in 2010 because tuition fees were due to increase by 15%. To prevent these increases, four accountants were called in by the student leaders to help. They studied the university’s budget and outlined plans that would see the university save money and generate alternative sources of revenue to ease the pressure on students.

“We sat in countless meetings with university management, armed with pages of notes supporting our arguments and pages of testimonies from students who were personally affected by the issue.

“We drew up a memorandum and took it to Parliament. It was discussed in the portfolio committee on higher education and read in Parliament for Blade [Nzimande, minister of higher education] and his friends to hear.

“In the end [university] management agreed (i.e. told us, not settled with us) to reduce the 15% to 14% and we never heard from Blade again,” she said.

18 months ago, Higher Education South Africa (an organisation now known as Universities South Africa), also warned Parliament.

Dr Max Price, vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town, and Dr Saleem Badat, then vice-chancellor of Rhodes University and chairperson of Hesa, on March 5 2014 warned the portfolio committee on higher education that student financing was a crisis. 

They said the number of students had doubled since 1994 and even though government funding had risen from R11 billion in 2006 to R26 billion in 2013, the funding per student had declined significantly.

In the past, up to 90% of universities’ money came from the state, but today it is about 50%, Badat said. “If this state of affairs continued, Rhodes would be bankrupt in five years.”

Price and Badat asked for a three-day conference with the department of higher education, the treasury, the National Students Financial Aid Scheme and other stakeholders before the end of 2014. 

According to the minutes of the meeting, the committee chairperson agreed that such a meeting was necessary, but nothing came of the proposal.

Professor Adam Habib, vice-chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand and current Hesa chairperson, said yesterday that such a meeting had definitely not taken place since he took over as chair in August 2014.

Price could not be reached for comment but Pat Lucas, UCT spokesperson said according to her information such a meeting had not taken place.

Read more on:    university fees  |  student protests  |  #feesmustfall  |  nsfas

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