South Africa faces more unrest as university fees decision looms

Institutions warn of financial peril if increase is not permitted by ministers

August 15, 2016
Burning tyre

South Africa’s university campuses look set for another round of unrest as students oppose a possible increase in tuition fees.

Fees at the country’s higher education institutions were frozen last year after nationwide protests against increases proposed by vice-chancellors, but universities have warned that they will face serious financial difficulties if a rise is not permitted for the 2017 academic year.

The country’s Fees Commission, which is holding hearings into the matter, was told that five universities had made a loss in 2014 and that this number would grow if fees were not increased.

In its presentation, the University of Pretoria said that it would make a loss of 100 million rand (£5.8 million) if tuition fees for next year were not increased by more than 8 per cent.

Expectations of a fee increase were heightened by evidence given to the commission by the South African Treasury, which showed that officials had not budgeted for a tuition fee freeze in 2017.

Higher education minister Blade Nzimande asked the country’s statutory agency for universities, the Council on Higher Education, to investigate future fee regulation and was told that the “most defensible” option was an “across the board” increase in line with inflation.

The South African Union of Students, which has been campaigning for free tuition, has threatened a major round of demonstrations in protest with the aim of shutting down universities.

Mr Nzimande has called for calm. He was due to make an announcement on fees on 12 August but postponed this in light of the council’s report.

“Given the competing views on fee adjustments, it is indeed imperative that we get as broad a consensus as possible regarding 2017 fees,” The Citizen quoted the minister as saying.

The Fees Commission heard that tuition fees made up almost half of total income at institutions including the University of Johannesburg and Rhodes University.

Meanwhile, fees accounted for nearly a third of revenue at some of the country’s most prestigious research institutions, including the universities of Witwatersrand, Pretoria and Cape Town.

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