Universities initiate talks on 2018 fee increases

At least three universities have embarked on holding discussions about 2018 tertiary fee increases, while President Jacob Zuma sits on the Heher commission report on the feasibility of free higher education.

Zuma has promised to study its recommendations and make it public, but a month has passed since he received the report. The commission was headed by Judge Jonathan Heher.

Meanwhile, North-West University (NWU), along with the Free State’s Central University of Technology (CUT) and the Western Cape’s Stellenbosch University (SU), have quietly initiated talks with student bodies and interest groups seeking to find common ground for their “preliminary” budgets and to come up with an amicable solution to what appears to be a stalemate between the expectations of the #FeesMustFall student movement, the presidency and tertiary institutions.

The three institutions mentioned above told City Press this week that they had taken the initiative to discuss possible fee increases for 2018 rather than wait until it was too late.

Director of the Centre for Higher Education Trust Dr Nico Cloete said universities had no choice but to come up with proposed budgets for next year.

He said last-minute announcements on fee increases often destabilised universities’ planning systems – as had been the case at South Africa’s tertiary institutions for the past three years.

This also negatively affected students, he said.

Daniel Maritz, the spokesperson for CUT, said although a final figure on fee increases for next year would be concluded once Zuma made the report available, the university council had, in the meantime, approved a “preliminary 2018 budget”.

Maritz said the council had arrived at a “preliminary fee increase of 8%, to allow the university to plan properly for the new year”.

He added that the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) attended the meeting regarding the budget.

He said that, once the fees commission report was released, a proper process would be followed with the student body, via the student fees committee, to analyse it and its implications for the university.

“The university management remains committed to constructive and transparent engagements with all stakeholders, but [we are] gravely concerned about the delay in the release of the report as student fees remain a very sensitive issue at universities,” said Maritz.

“The delay certainly hampers our efforts as universities to ensure stable university campuses, conducive to quality teaching and learning, and a smooth November assessment process.”

Crucial time

NWU spokesperson Louis Jacobs said the university was currently busy with budgeting for 2018 and only after consultation with the SRC would a recommendation be made to NWU’s finance committee for consideration.

SU spokesperson Martin Viljoen said the university was also holding discussions with the campus community regarding fee increases for 2018.

“A final decision will be taken by council at its meeting in November,” Viljoen said.

Herman Esterhuizen, spokesperson for the University of Johannesburg (UJ) said that, while waiting for Zuma’s pronouncements on no-fee higher education, the university would continue to seek ways of further extending financial and other support to its most vulnerable students.

“UJ is constantly engaging with its SRC, as well as student society leaders and house committees,” he said.

Cloete said such delays ultimately led to a disruption of the academic year and university operations.

He said only people who did not know how tertiary institutions operated would be unconcerned, adding that now was a crucial time for universities to budget and inform students about fees for next year.

Cloete said this was the “worst time possible” to make an announcement that might disrupt exams.

He added that Zuma might have delayed making an announcement about increases since receiving the report “to avoid triggering another national mobilisation of students”, which could disrupt exams.

Luthando Tyhalibongo, spokesperson for the University of the Western Cape, said discussions about fees often took place annually during the last quarter of the year.

“If the presidency makes an announcement in the next few days or weeks, the discussions will probably be centred on the report’s recommendation,” he said.

Vernon van der Linde, the chief financial officer at Walter Sisulu University in the Eastern Cape, said the university had not yet commenced any engagement with students regarding fee increases for 2018.

“We await the release of the Heher commission report.”

Similar answers were received from the universities of Pretoria, Cape Town and the Witwatersrand, as well as from Tshwane University of Technology.

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