#FeesMustFall: How serious is the situation?

By Richard van Rensburg
22 September 2016

A political analyst and expert on universities weighs in.

University campuses across South Africa are once again the scene of protests, in which students calling for free tertiary education.

But what exactly is going on?

YOU spoke to Theo Venter, a political analyst and expert on universities at North-West University (NWU).

1. How serious is the situation?

"We’re now seeing the frustration of students who’ve been waiting on an answer from Government since last year’s Fees Must Fall protests. Government has made many mistakes in how it’s handled the situation and so we now have to deal with the consequences of that."

2. What mistakes did Government make?

"The autonomy of universities was negated last year by the President’s decision that there would be no fee increases. This year, universities have been allowed to decide for themselves. It feels to me as if universities are being thrown under the bus."

3. In how much trouble are our universities?

"Students who want to learn and write exams, as well as parents whose children are due to start studying next are, are obviously deeply concerned by the situation. We need to be careful. If you’re standing in the middle of a slipstream, all options look equally bad, regardless of which way you’re looking. But our universities have survived similar situations in the past."

4. Why the violence?

"One of the characteristics of universities in developing societies is that they’re places where ideas develop and the status quo is challenged. It sometimes goes hand-in-hand with violence and the destruction of key institutions, such as libraries. Many people see no logic in the destruction, but it remains a characteristic of these types of processes worldwide."

6. How long will the protests last?

"Campuses are entering a difficult phase for the next month or so – until exams start and the reality sinks in for students that if they don’t sit their exams, they simply won’t pass."

7. What are the key influencing factors to rescue the situation or change things?

  • One of the next key moments will be in October when Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan delivers his midterm speech and indicates whether more funds are allocated to universities.
  • The recommendations following the enquiry into the financing of tertiary education institutes which are expected next year. The commission of enquiry’s job is to deliver suggestions for long-term solutions so that South Africans from poor and working class households are also able to gain access to higher education.
  • Clarity about President Jacob Zuma’s political future.

8. Are our universities properly funded by the state?

"When all is said and done, the main factor is that our universities are chronically underfunded. We therefore need to formulate a clear national viewpoint on how we want our students to be developed: Do we want parents or tax payers to pay? But somewhere someone will have to pay – there’s simply no such thing as free higher education."

More on this story:

Truck driver’s #FeesMustFall rant goes viral

Fees will not fall: students tell us what they think of Blade Nzimande’s annoucement

#FeesMustFall: the powerful photos you have to see

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