Students stage sit-in against fees at Stellenbosch University

2016-09-14 21:02
A protesting Stellenbosch student (Tammy Petersen, News24)

A protesting Stellenbosch student (Tammy Petersen, News24)

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Stellenbosch – Students at Stellenbosch University (SU) have staged a sit-in at the JS Gericke Library.

The sit-in began on Monday and was still ongoing late on Wednesday evening.

On Monday the students entered the library under the banners of #Occupy4FreeEducation and the #SFMFDefianceCampaign.

One student who spoke on condition of anonymity told News24 that the library was closed on Wednesday evening with 14 of the students still inside. He added that there was an increase in security personnel in and around the library although the sit-in has been peaceful so far.

The Feesmustfall Stellenbosch 2.0 Facebook page sent out a statement on Tuesday saying the students were staging the sit-in in solidarity with the call for the scrapping of university fees.
"The comrades sat peacefully throughout the night and studied in the library," the statement reads.

"The university chose to bring in private security this evening and brought in more campus security. We have not engaged with the security and remained peaceful, regardless of the intimidation that their presence inflicts on the psyche of some members of the collective."

Fears of forceful removal

The page claims that the university's rector and vice chancellor, Professor Wim de Villiers, only sent "staff members of colour" to negotiate with them despite the students wanting to speak to De Villiers himself.

Another student inside the library who also asked to remain anonymous said they have received reliable information that they might be forcefully removed from the premises.

"We have been peaceful, have not done anything or destroyed anything but there is a lot of security right now around the place and inside." 

He said that the security guards were from a private company known as Men in Black.

"We have only demanded that our rector come and speak to us like every other rector does.

We will end this and leave once he does that. We want to talk about fees, especially because Stellenbosch University is one of the only universities in the Western Cape, in fact it's the only one that says free fees are not possible.

"We are trying to create the dialogue. He doesn't speak to us. He thinks that he is the son of God that only exists as an idea but never comes and speaks to students. He is always speaking to key leaders but we don't know who those people are. It's not unreasonable that our rector comes and listens to us as his students."

University spokesperson Martin Viljoen said in a statement that the institution was continuing discussions on fees with the student community groups.

Fee-free higher education not feasible

Viljoen said the university acknowledged the right of students to protest, provided that the academic programme was not disrupted, the safety of staff and students was not threatened and university property was not damaged. 

He added that in the university's submission to the Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education on September 6 2016, De Villiers stated that he felt fee-free higher education was not currently feasible due to the country's slow economic growth rate, increasing demands on government resources and decades of funding backlogs.

"SU supports the sectoral proposal of a minimum increase of 8% in annual income for 2017 if universities are to maintain current levels of academic quality and financial sustainability. This income could come from a variety of sources, including state subsidy, student (tuition) fees and a complex array of other private sources of funding."

The university said that it was well aware that South Africa has an unequal society comprising of an affluent and upper middle class that can afford university education and a large component of lower middle class and poor students who cannot pay their way.

"Therefore, Stellenbosch University supports and follows a differentiated approach: increase in tuition and accommodation fees that are mitigated through financial support to academically deserving poor students related to the combined annual household income. The level of financial support is determined according to a sliding scale based on the combined annual household income."

According to Viljoen, the university's bursaries accommodate increases in tuition and accommodation fees.

"The institution supports students with bursaries and loans that amount to more than 50% of the annual income from students' tuition fees. In 2015 SU allocated an amount of R 402.8 million to bursaries from research contracts and own funds. Of this amount, R115 million was allocated from the main budget. In the same year 38% of all undergraduate students, and 70% of undergraduate black, coloured and Indian students received bursaries."

Read more on:    university of stellenbosch  |  cape town  |  education  |  #feesmustfall

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