WRAP: Universities on tenterhooks over fee hikes

2016-09-19 16:24
Students pack into Jameson Hall at UCT. (Tina Hsu, News24)

Students pack into Jameson Hall at UCT. (Tina Hsu, News24)

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Johannesburg - Student bodies across the country stand divided on their way forward in the wake of an announcement by Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande that tertiary institutions could hike their 2017 fees by 8%.

Nzimande, speaking at a press briefing in Pretoria on Monday, said that these establishments of learning should not exceed that 8% threshold.  

"We have looked at the challenges at hand from all sides and have concluded that the best approach would be to allow universities individually to determine the level of increase that their institutions will require," he said.

"With the caution that this has to also take into account affordability of students, and therefore has to be transparent, reasonable and related to inflation-linked adjustments, our recommendation is that the fee adjustments should not go above 8%."

The government, he said, would assist households with an income of up to R600 000 per annum with subsidy funding to cover the gap between the 2015 fee and adjusted 2017 fee at the relevant institutions.

At the University of Witwatersrand, students gathered to discuss the announcement, with a complete shutdown of the University being suggested by some.  

'Nzimande's suggestion is not acceptable'

Wits SRC deputy president Motheo Brody told News24 that student leaders would do whatever was requested by the students.

"We will take our lead from the students, but one thing is for sure, Nzimande's suggestion is not acceptable."

Student leaders at the volatile University of KwaZulu-Natal were also vocal in their disdain over Nzimande's announcement.

"From the beginning of our protests, we were clear that we do not want any increment increase. The issues of fees increment it is our main issue," SRC deputy president Sunshine Myende said.

Myende, however, added that the student council would still have to determine how the increase, capped at 8%, would affect UKZN students.

She said that, while there were currently no planned protests, the council meeting on Monday would "determine various factors around the increase".

UKZN has been beset by protest action in recent weeks, with students torching the much revered law library two weeks ago.

List of demands

Students protest at UFS. (News24)

On Monday, the University of Cape Town suspended the academic programme in anticipation of the fee increment announcement.

Within hours on Nzimande's briefing, more than 200 students were gathered at the institution's main square, also the site of many student protests over the past two years.

Earlier, a group of UCT students barricaded the North and South Stops with boulders. These were later removed by traffic officers and police. There was visible security, from a helicopter to Public Order Police vans, patrolling the periphery.

At a mass student gathering, SRC candidate Khululwa Mthi said students rejected Blade "our dear father" Nzimande's 8% fee cap. His comments were met with applause.

The students had a list of demands, including protection from victimisation or disciplinary proceedings for those who participated in protests, a R12 000 salary for UCT workers, who should be insourced, and the removal of all statues and plaques on campus "celebrating white supremacists", among other demands.  

'Consult with our students'

At the University of Johannesburg, with the majority of the student body on recess, the institution said it would have an answer on their fee increment increase in two weeks.

UJ spokesperson Herman Esterhuizen told News24 on Monday that the institution would now begin its consultation with student leaders.

"We are going to consult with our students regarding the minister’s announcement. In two to three weeks, a decision will be made."

The university remained protest-free at the time of publication.

The sentiment was similar at the University of Pretoria, where meetings between the student body and their leadership would determine a path forward.

The Economic Freedom Fighter's student command at the University of Pretoria said students would provide the direction that would be taken.

"We are going to meet with students today, then engage with the vice chancellor," Lungile Sonwabo told News24.

The Student Representative Council (SRC) at the University of Free State threatened to shut down their institution.

'Blade is arrogant'

SRC president Lindokuhle Ntuli told hundreds of students gathered at the student centre that the announcement called for a national shutdown.

"Our call is for government to fund the poor and we can't compromise that. Since the beginning of the year government has been delaying to look into the grievances of students," he said.  

One student who was part of the crowd, Kelebogile Thulo, said she was shocked when she heard Nzimande's announcement.

"Blade is arrogant; we thought he learnt his lesson last year. Black students are going to suffer," she said.

Another student, Sam Styrax, said: "Blade has played a very clever trick by shifting the responsibilities to students. He wants us to blame the universities for fee increase."

The situation at Stellenbosch University was more sedate, however, the institution said students would have limited library access on Monday, as the small Western Cape town waited to see how students would respond to Nzimande's announcement.

The students' initial response was muted, with many not aware of the details that were live-streamed earlier to a sparsely attended meeting at the Lilian Ngoyi auditorium on the campus.

They sat on the lawns near the Jan Marais statue, which was a central point in protests earlier this year over colonial era statues, and a struggle over Afrikaans and English as the medium of instruction.

Read more on:    blade ­nzimande  |  education  |  university fees

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