Durban – Pressure is mounting on the higher education department as student leaders plan to begin consultations and mass meetings on Monday to pave a way forward on the issue of student fees.
The South African Union of Students (SAUS), which claims to be the largest federation of student governance representation, says it has lost patience with the government and will accept nothing but a 0% fee increase in all universities in 2017.
While government still deliberates over next year’s university fees, students leaders have threatened to shut down universities across the country should the government implement a fee increase.
Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande on Sunday noted the threats and called for calm.
Nzimande said he had received a report from the Council on Higher Education on recommendations for 2017 fee adjustments on Thursday, and decided that further consultation was required. He had been expected to make an announcement on Friday, but the briefing was cancelled.
SAUS president Avela Mjajubana said the report back from the commission was delayed until May 2017 and this meant that thousands of students would have the doors of higher learning closed to them.
“We reject the fact that the commission is investigating the feasibility of free education instead investigating the modalities of how to realise free and quality education... The question should not be whether South Africa can afford free education, but can we afford not to have free and quality education.”
Mjajubana said the union also rejected the creation of two separate task teams or commissions, one investigating free education and the other the possibility of a 2017 fee increment.
“This is a clear waste of taxpayers’ money as well as time. The work of the commission on free education must inform the way forward for 2017.”
Mjajubana said the union noted that no official announcement had been made regarding the fee increment
“However, we are aware of the possibility that the state is considering a 6-8% increase in university fees for the year 2017. The Council of Higher Education [CHE] has indicated that universities require approximately 8% income to function.”
Carrying the cost
Mjajubana said the state and the private sector should carry the cost.
“In 2016 when the president announced the moratorium on fee increments, it was the state and universities themselves that covered the costs of the increments, not the student body. In the same light, students must not bear the financial burden of a 2017 increment.
“This is also because the commission on free education was set to report back at the end of 2016 and thus provide a way forward for 2017. The delay in their work severely undermines and negatively affects our students. And we are now paying the price for it.”
He said the union would not accept any increment.
“The 0% last year was a symbolic commitment to the realisation of free and quality education which is our ultimate goal. As students we are unafraid of the use of security forces as well as the use of court interdicts. We will not be deterred from our revolutionary mandate.”
He said Monday marked the beginning of the process of mass consultations and mass meetings.
“A mandate must be given from our student constituencies. Each institution has its own dynamic and situation on the ground. As such our SRCs will be calling mass meetings and various stakeholder meetings over the next few days. It is important that we consolidate a national list of demands that come directly from our students.”
The union said it would continue to engage universities, the department, national treasury and the private sector on the matter.