On Monday 19 September 2016, Minister for Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande, announced that universities will have to decide on their own fee increase for 2017. This has been seen by some as a hospital pass and a dodge away from accountability, while others have praised government for realising how different universities are and how a one size fits all policy concerning cost structures will be detrimental. The following has been proposed by government.
Each university will be left to decide their own cost structure for 2017. To counter large increases, Nzimande has capped increases at 8%. The reason for this increase has been linked to inflation which currently sits at just under 6% as well as the rising costs of universities.
Students from poor backgrounds will be funded by NSFAS and will experience no increase as such. Students who form part of the missing middle will also be subsidised by government in order to alleviate the increase. Therefore, a student whose parents ear less than R600 000 per annum, will be paying the same rates as they did in 2015.
Students are currently aggrieved at the Minister’s move, calling it political laziness and passing the buck to universities. Largely, it has been seen as dodge of accountability from government. When universities do announce their individual fee increases, government will not be held to account for their lack of funding and the increase through the years. Inflation is a reality, and so should be the effective redistribution of taxes which also account for inflation. Students have been sold short in respect of their tertiary education.
Another interesting perspective that has come to the fore is the long term effect of dividing of fees structures. As fees increase for the wealthy, it will eventually get to a point where the wealthy will see international universities as viable options. As this happens, the rich will start to send their children there instead of South African universities, because they are better funded. This will lead to an even bigger problem in the universities as their funding will yet again decrease.
From a social point of view, the funding situation creates a superior attitude in the minds of the rich. They will adopt the attitude of paying for the rest of the students to attend the institutions, this will no doubt also contribute to seeking alternative tertiary education in the private sector or internationally. This proposal may aggravate already deep social divides in South African society.
So what are the proposals by students at Rhodes University, as per a meeting held on the 19 September at Purple Square? Students were largely divided on what the way forward would be. Some have suggested a shutdown, while others have alluded to targeting the private sector. However, one thing is clear: students are not satisfied with the Minister’s announcement and it has been criticised for masking yet another problem by the current government. A shift away from problems with temporary solutions will only make long term effects worse. The grievances experienced by students are in this respect justified.
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