Universities on tenterhooks ahead of Nzimande's 2017 fee announcement

Wits students protest against increasing fees.(Lizeka Tandwa, News24)
Wits students protest against increasing fees.(Lizeka Tandwa, News24)

Johannesburg – Universities around the country are waiting anxiously for an announcement from Minister of Higher Education and Training Blade Nzimande regarding possible fee increases for the 2017 academic year. 

"Everything is on hold. We refuse to pre-empt anything, we will wait to hear from government," said University of the Witwatersrand spokesperson Sharona Patel.

In October last year Wits  became the epicentre of the Fees Must Fall movement, a protest campaign demanding a 0% tuition increase that spread to many of the country's institutions of higher learning and saw days-long shutdowns at several, including Wits and the University of the North West.

Another of the students' demands was that the practice of outsourcing university workers is scrapped. 

Patel said management had taken a decision to keep an open line of communication with students at all times regarding developments around tuition fees.

"We have all agreed to wait until we hear from government in that respect, but in order to address our commitment to insourcing, which still stands in the new year, we established a senate task team on trade-offs.  It's been looking into where we can make cuts in order to channel the money that way."

'We just have to wait and see'

Images of burning buildings, apparently torched by students protesting against fee increases and demanding transformation on the Mafikeng campus of the North West University, shocked South Africans earlier this year. 

Damage there was estimated at R86m, while the combined bill for damage to property at universities across the country from October last year is estimated to be R460m.

Director of communications at the university's Mafikeng campus Louis Jacobs said it would take 12 months for repairs to be completed.

He said the institution was worried about how students would react to news of a possible increase from Nzimande.

"Of course we are concerned about our campus, we are constantly in communication with our students and have contingency plans in place," he said.

The University of Johannesburg is currently handling the matter of 17 students who are accused of setting an auditorium at the institution on fire in May amidst threats of a shutdown by students. 

Spokesperson Herman Esterhuizen, who indicated that the university was also waiting in anticipation for the department of higher education's decision, said the institution had tried to communicate with students on the potential consequences of the decision expected to be taken by Nzimande. 

"We have been exploring all manner of possibilities but really we just have to wait and see."


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