Govt should never have intervened in fees crisis - Jansen

2016-08-25 17:00
Outgoing UFS vice chancellor Jonathan Jansen speaks on the state of SA's universities at CPUT in Bellville, Cape Town. (Paul Herman, News24)

Outgoing UFS vice chancellor Jonathan Jansen speaks on the state of SA's universities at CPUT in Bellville, Cape Town. (Paul Herman, News24)

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Cape Town - Outgoing UFS Vice Chancellor Jonathan Jansen says the government's decision to institute a 0% fee increase at South African universities last year created the current funding crisis faced by 19 institutions.

Jansen was speaking at a public lecture at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Bellville on Thursday, and said that state intervention was the first of three signs that the country's universities were heading for a meltdown.

"Last year, at the end of the fees crisis, politicians decided that they will decide the fee increase for this year," Jansen said.

"It turns out, that's illegal. The Council of Higher Education is the only body that must decide it, and there was a loss of autonomy at the universities.

"The problem is, to quote Wits Vice Chancellor Adam Habib, once the State gets in, it doesn't know how to get out."

Parliament's portfolio committee on higher education heard on Wednesday that 19 universities could become dysfunctional in 2018 if a 0% fee increase is carried over for a second year, News24 reported.

Jansen cited examples from across the the continent, especially those of "formerly good" universities in Zimbabwe, that their respective declines also involved underfunding.

Underfunding, violent protests

"The second issue is underfunding by the government," he continued.

"All we have in South Africa is two streams of revenue: state subsidy and tuition. This isn't the US, where private entities provide endowments, like your Rockefellers, etc.

"The amount of money in real terms is dropping every year, and without state funding, these two 'planes' collide. It's unsustainable."

Jansen said the third problem was chronic instability and violent protests at the country's institutions, which were a big factor in the so called "brain drain".

"So when you have this chronic instablility, two things happen: your top professors leave, because they have choices; and your fee-paying students leave, because they have choices."

Jansen, who is stepping down from his position at UFS in August, said universities needed middle class students to stay at their respective institutions, as their ability to pay tuition helped "cross-subsidise" funding for poorer students.

'Education is never really free'

The 59-year-old also said that free education was a priority for him, but that even if it was achievable, somebody somewhere would have to pay.

"It's very clear to me that a student that comes out of a poor area who has gotten five, six distinctions and plays by the rules, that we have no right to turn that student away [due to finances].

"But here's a footnote. Education is never really free. Even if it is technically, something needs to be paid, and universities will need income from elsewhere."

Jansen will become a Fellow at the Centre for Advanced Studies in the Behavioural Sciences at Stanford University in the US next month.

Read more on:    jonathan jansen  |  cape town  |  education  |  university protests

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