Higher education minister Blade Nzimande has announced that university councils are empowered to adjust their own fee hikes for 2017, but poor students will be covered by government.
In a press briefing on Monday, Nzimande announced that the best course of action would be to allow universities to continue setting their own fee increases for 2017.
However, based on feedback from tertiary institutes, the minister has advised that they do not go over 8%.
Many university leaders have made a strong case that an 8% agreement (CPI+2%) is essential, he said. “Our recommendation is that fee adjustments should not go above 8%.”
According to Nzimande, the cost of living – and the cost of doing business in the country has increased in the past 12 months, and so it would be unfair to expect universities to continue operating on less money.
SA universities are currently facing extreme financial pressures, due largely to the 0% increase implemented in 2016.
However, students who have been demanding a moratorium on fee hikes for a second year, have not been left out of the equation.
Nzimande said that students on the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) – and those who fall into the so-called ‘missing middle’ – students who are ‘too rich’ to qualify for NSFAS support, but too poor to afford fees and qualify for commercial loans – will be covered by the taxpayer.
According to the minister, NSFAS students are already covered, with government absorbing any 2017 hikes. The ‘missing middle’ students, for now, are not as lucky.
The ‘missing middle’ will have to continue as they have (ie, paying for their own studies, sans increases), with a system coming in the next year to address this particular group, and their plights in attaining further education, the minister said.
“There’s no free higher education for everyone, we’re helping the students who come from poor families,” Nzimande said.
Students with family income of up to R600,000 per annum will be supported by government, he said, while above that amount, each university council will essentially determine the increase.
Students at campuses across the country have made it clear that they will not accept any university increases, and have threatened to shut down campuses.
For several weeks, fee increment increases have been at the vortex of violent upheaval at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, during which time a prized law library was torched.
The University of Cape Town has also suspended all lectures and tests as tensions rose on campuses.
According to Nzimande, it is a misconception that there was a 0% increase in fees in 2016, saying that fees increased by 6%, with government (taxpayers) covering that amount.
Addressing students’ unhappiness with the announcement, the minister said that costs increase, and that it does not wait for permission. Nzimande said that “there is no free higher education for everyone”, insisting that government was doing its part to give the ‘no-fee increase’ experience to as many people as it could.
Source: Business Tech