Nzimande pleads with students to accept new offer

2015-10-20 22:11
(File: Loanna Hoffmann)

(File: Loanna Hoffmann)

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The government has pleaded with university students to consider the CPI-related 6% cap on university fee increases for 2016.

Students across the country have been engaged in #FeesMustFall protests calling for zero increases in student fees for next year after several universities announced plans to increase their fees by 10.5%, others by up to 12%.

The proposed offer was a result of a meeting between higher education stakeholders who included Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, vice-chancellors of various universities, labour unions and student representatives.

The meeting was convened in Cape Town as a response to the current wave of student protests at a number of universities.

Nzimande told journalists that the purpose of the meeting was to explore ways and means of addressing the funding situation of the higher education system and craft a common approach for finding solutions specifically to fees and fee-increases. He could not say what the effect of the 6% on the university budgets will be, but he did say that the development would require planning and that both the universities and his department would have to find other ways to raise money to be able to deal with the shortfall.

“The stakeholders agreed to encourage their respective constituencies to engage in institutional negotiations at universities with a view to achieve a fee increase of not higher than a CPI-related increase of 6% for 2016,” he announced.

But the real work begins this evening as those who were part of the meeting have to sell the proposed offer to the striking students.

The 6% increase cap is only for 2016 and a task team will be established with a view to provide a report on the establishment of a more sustainable fee regime that also recognises the importance of input variables such as the university subsidy and higher education cost drivers. That would address a fee structure for 2017 and beyond.

The task team will have six months to do its work.

“We are all sympathetic with the high cost ... university education is expensive and that is why the government has the national student financial aid scheme to relieve poor students.

“But in all conflict situations, there is often always the necessity to compromise. No party gets 100% of what it wants, otherwise if we approach things that way, we will never be able to resolve any of the problems that face us,” he explained.

Nzimande said fees from students contributed about R22 billion to the system.

“That is a huge amount of money. If you say 0% [increase], you are actually saying let’s wipe off R22 billion from the system. That’s why we would really urge the students to seriously consider this compromise … to seriously take this offer in the interest of the system,” said Nzimande. 

“If there is a problem at a university or at universities and I sit back and do nothing, people say where is Blade; if I act, I often get accused of interference by the same forces.”

Wits University’s vice-chancellor Adam Habib, who attended the meeting in his capacity as the chairperson of Universities of South Africa described the 6% increase cap as “a much better deal” that should create a framework for institutional negotiations to take place.

“As a collective of stakeholders we are saying we are going to open up the processes of institutional negotiations and the goal of that institutional negotiation must not be higher than a CPI-related 6% increase,” he said.

“This is simply to create an environment for the 27 institutional negotiations to actually happen. So I think it’s a very productive way to go forward, it enables the possibility of finding some solutions to the challenges that we have had in the last couple of days,” he added.

Habib was however clear that the offer did not “close off” the issue of the upfront registration fee, saying this may be dealt with on an institution to institution basis by the individual institutions.

Speaking for students, Tebogo Thothela, the deputy president of the South African Union of Students, was not optimistic that his peers would buy into the 6% agreement. He said he went into the discussions with the students’ clarion call for the government to implement the 2007 Polokwane resolution on free education for the poor.

“The position throughout this country is that fees must fall. We are unwavering about that; we are uncompromising about that.”

Reflecting on the discussions, Thothela said: “We are saying, as we are about to engage in negotiations, we must in principle agree that it must not go above CPI that is 6% and that is negotiating in good faith. It’s what we are saying student leaders and everyone must consider.”

“We can’t guarantee what the reaction will be and we shouldn’t because power lies within the institutions. 

“Collectively we have the difficult task of going back and saying this is the position for now in 2016 as we try to realise what we ought to realise,” added Thothela.

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