Johannesburg - The Higher Education Transformation Network (HETN) fears that some universities may purposefully admit fewer disadvantaged matriculants who rely on the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas) as a way to prevent more student protests from breaking out.
The network said in a statement on Friday: "With a view towards ensuring as minimal student protests as possible, some institutions of higher learning are nefariously planning to selectively admit as few as possible from poor disadvantaged matriculants who rely on Nsfas funding.
"We accordingly warn that should errant [vice chancellors] be left to their own devices, the above admission practices will result in student admission pockets based on social class and further serve to entrench discriminative social trends in higher education."
The HETN also said while it noted the 2017 fee increments by the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and Stellenbosch University, it was worried that the two institutions failed to explain what internal cost-saving measures were planned to curb more fee increments in 2018.
"We are concerned at the fee announcements by the institutions without any emphasis on clear plans in terms of which student access measures are planned for implementation by the universities to favour the admission of more academically deserving poor black disadvantaged youths from rural disadvantaged backgrounds who fall within and below the missing middle."
Call for central admissions portal
It predicted that comparatively, more affluent institutions such as Wits and Stellenbosch University, which it said had historically been able to amass more reserves than other poorer institutions, were planning to continue with their traditionally-skewed student admission practices.
The network called on the government to compel all state-funded institutions of higher learning to adhere to a "common central admissions portal to ensure a more coherent student admission policy implementation regime that ensures that traditionally affluent institutions do not continue to exclusively target students from the 'cream of the crop' households but also admit more academically deserving students from poor rural disadvantaged backgrounds".
Wits earlier this month announced its fee increase will be limited to an average of 8% for the 2017 academic year, with only some postgraduate programmes set to exceed 8% in increases.
In September, Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande announced that university fees may not exceed an 8% increase in response to mass student protests against fees.
Nzimande also promised that households with an income of less than R600 000 per annum would not be affected by the fee increases.