THE top structure of the African National Congress, the national executive committee (NEC), has resolved that the prevailing policy of no fee increases at South African universities must continue, secretary general Gwede Mantashe said Sunday evening.
“The NEC resolved that the principle of no fee increases in universities should remain in place to give a chance to a consultative engagement with all stakeholders in order to arrive at an economically viable and affordable cost of higher education,” Mantashe told journalists at the end of the NEC’s four-day conference in Pretoria.
Asked how the governing party expected higher education institutions to survive amid the declining state subsidies and unparalleled student growth, Mantashe said this was not a call for a ban on future fee increases.
“We’re not saying fee increases are banned. That is not what we are saying. We are saying hold on, do not rush into fee increases before you complete your consultations and engagement,” he said.
“Whatever you do must be economically viable and must [also]be affordable for higher education. If you just take a principle that there must be no fee increases, you may actually collapse the system. That is all we’re saying at this time. Don’t rush into fee increases now. Hold back until the consultation process is complete.”
Messages have been doing the rounds on social networks on Sunday warning students of impending massive protests against fee increases scheduled for 2017. The protests would reportedly start on Monday.
Last week, the South African Union of Students (SAUS) hinted at another series of crippling mass protests after making its presentation to the Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training chaired by Judge Jonathan Arthur Heher in Pretoria.
“We are very disappointed by the slow pace of the commission and the arrogance portrayed by Judge Heher. We are very disappointed and we are putting it on record that we have the masses of our people behind us and we are going to meet in the streets,” SAUS secretary general Sthembiso Ndlovu told reporters.
“They have told us that for the past six months they have been dealing with logistics. As a union we are now going to travel the length and breadth of this country, interacting with our students in mass meetings at institutions of higher learning. We will be reporting on what happened here today.”
Ndlovu said a way forward regarding the students’ reaction to the high fees paid at universities would be discussed and found at those mass meetings.
“If students say let us go and study at the Union Buildings, or let us go and study at Parliament, who are we to defy the mandate given to us by the students? We are very disappointed,” said Ndlovu.
The SAUS was first to make submissions to the commission of inquiry into the burning issue of higher education funding. In July, President Jacob Zuma extended the deadline by which the commission should complete its work. The commission, announced by Zuma in January following last year’s countrywide protests over the escalating costs of higher education, was meant to complete its work within eight months.
“The commission will now complete its work by 30 June 2017. The extension was done on the request of the chairperson of the commission, Justice Heher,” Zuma’s office said in a statement recently.
“The commission is expected to submit a preliminary report to the president on or before 15 November 2016.”
Last year a number of university campuses were shut down after the #FeesMustFall campaign gained momentum and even saw students storm Parliament. This led Zuma to announce a zero percent fee hike for the 2016 academic year. – ANA