South Africa: Fees 2017 – Opposition Parties and Vice-Chancellors Work Towards a Solution

The following statement follows last night’s meeting between Universities of South Africa and Opposition Parties – DA (Prof Belinda Bozzoli MP and Yusuf Cassim MP), UDM (Bantu Holomisa MP), COPE (Mosiuoa Lekota MP), IFP (Mkhuleko Hlengwa MP) and ACDP (Rev. Kenneth Meshoe MP).

Opposition Parties met last night in Johannesburg for an engagement with Professor Adam Habib (Chairperson) and Dr Ahmed Bawa (CEO) of Universities South Africa (USAF), the association of South African University Vice-Chancellors and Rectors, who spoke on behalf of the country’s Vice-Chancellors.

The Opposition Parties agreed that the Higher Education system is in a state of crisis. Protests, often violent, have led to police and security presence on campuses, significant destruction of learning infrastructure, arson and vandalism. This has left a total of sixteen Universities closed, a further 6 are tenuously remaining open and only four Universities are fully open.

The underlying cause is that Universities have all suffered serious budget cuts over the years as State subsidies have declined. They have sought to make up for lost government revenue through increasing fees over the period, but this model has now reached a level of unsustainability which has caused the emergency we face

Leaving Universities closed will create untold damage to students, to future students, and to our future workforce. If this year’s graduates cannot complete their courses and graduate, no new doctors, accountants, engineers or lawyers will enter the workforce. And if Universities remain closed, no matriculants will be able to enter further study next year.

Opposition Parties agreed that:

– It is vital that classes resume. If the academic year is not completed it will negatively impact admissions for next year and new graduates entering the workplace;

– We welcome the commitment by the Fees Commission to release an interim report in November;

– Parliament must take the necessary steps to ensure there is a budget reallocation to adequately fund universities and students. We will use the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement to make the necessary adjustments.

– The state is, ideally, the right body to ensure that no poor student who obtains a University place should be turned away on financial grounds alone;

– However attempts by some students to achieve this end through violence, disruption, vandalism and arson deserves our strongest condemnation;

– It is vital that Universities be reopened as soon as humanly possible, and that this is the wish of the vast majority of students;

– The training of police and private security in the maintenance of public order policing must be reviewed to ensure they act within the parameters of the law. The right to protest peacefully must be protected, as must the right not to protest.

It must be stressed that Parliament has a profound role to play in the ongoing higher education crisis, given its ability to not only approve budgets but also to adjust budgets in order to adapt to developments of national importance.

President Jacob Zuma’s slow reaction to this crisis and the Fee Commission’s delays are disappointing to say the least. At a time when leadership has been needed the President has again failed to show up. This is a failure of leadership on the part the President and his administration.

Any long term solution must include a fundamental restructuring of the mechanisms through which University annual subsidies are determined and sustained over time.

The crisis that has gripped the country’s higher education institutions requires society as a whole to work together in order to find workable solutions for the short and long-term so that no student is excluded from completing their tertiary qualification due to their financial circumstances.

Source: Democratic Alliance