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Campuses on knife edge as the president dithers and universities set to increase fees

Thabo Mohlala

Universities will probably know how last year’s 8% fee increase will be adjusted before the end of the year. This is according to Professor Ahmed Bawa, chief executive of Universities South Africa (Usaf). This comes after a meeting with the newly-appointed Minister of Higher Education and Training, Hlengiwe Mkhize.

Most universities hold their council meetings by the end of November and the issue of budgeting for the next academic year, particularly the fee increment, would receive special attention.  

“It was an excellent meeting and we agreed that this matter of how we would deal with the fact that the universities require an 8% increase in income as an inflationary adjustment will be discussed this week,” said Bawa.

He added that Mkhize said she would engage Treasury on the issue. In his medium-term budget policy statement, Minister of Finance, Malusi Gigaba did not mention how much would be allocated to fund tertiary education.

Bawa said Usaf, which represents 26 public higher education institutions, would take the leaked report with a pinch of salt until the president formally announced the report of the commission of inquiry. 

“We don’t really know whether the leaked report upon which City Press based its coverage is the final complete report or not. We are anxiously awaiting the formal release of a report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry,” Bawa said. 

The leaked report suggested that government would not deliver on free education for all, one of the students’ core demands during the #FeesMustFall campaign. Most students have reacted to the leaked report with anger and feel cheated. They say nothing short of government acceding to their call to for a universal education would appease them. They vowed to embark on widespread and full-blown protest marches similar to those that crippled the 2015/16 academic year programme.   

Last week, University of Cape Town (UCT) disrupted classes and examinations forcing management to call the police and subsequently close the campus for two days. Students at the University of Free State (UFS) also held similar protests while the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) has issued a statement pledging their solidarity with the protesting students.

Vice-chancellors have also said their institutions would not survive and are compelled to hike their fees to sustain their operations. Max Price, UCT’s vice-chancellor, said if they increase their fees they expected the government to avail more funding so the increase would not be passed on to students.  

Bawa expressed disappointment about the Presidency’s failure to meet university management and the student representative councils as key stakeholders before the report was released. However, he was optimistic they would hear from the President’s Office’s office before the end of the week. He said the greatest fear for Usaf is that the leaked report would inflame the already volatile situation on various campuses and disrupt examinations.

In an attempt to buy time on Friday the presidency released a statement saying it is “now finalizing the processing of the report which requires, among other things, the Presidency consults with the relevant Ministers to ensure that government is ready to implement the President’s decision as soon he releases the report”. The statement further said the consultations with relevant stakeholders were at an advanced stage and would be finalised this week. It remains to be seen if President Zuma will keep his word and release the highly anticipated report.

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