#FEES CRI­SIS TACK­LED

New fo­rum aims do en­gage with all ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion stake­hold­ers in a bid to avert more stu­dent protests

CityPress - - News - MSINDISI FENGU msindisi.fengu@city­press.co.za

The newly formed Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion Cri­sis Fo­rum is plan­ning to host a na­tional con­ven­tion in­volv­ing all in­ter­ested par­ties next month to dis­cuss the coun­try’s higher ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing conundrum. Dik­gang Moseneke, for­mer deputy chief jus­tice, who is one of the nine con­ven­ers of the fo­rum launched on Thurs­day at the Nel­son Man­dela Foun­da­tion in Jo­han­nes­burg, said they hoped to bring to­gether ed­u­ca­tion stake­hold­ers – in­clud­ing civil so­ci­ety groups, busi­nesses, stu­dents, par­ents, govern­ment of­fi­cials and univer­sity staff – at the con­ven­tion.

The con­ven­tion will seek to make pro­pos­als meant to over­haul the fund­ing of the higher ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor pend­ing the out­come of the com­mis­sion of in­quiry into higher ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing (the fees com­mis­sion).

He said govern­ment’s decision to ap­prove a max­i­mum univer­sity fee in­crease of 8% this year would be among the key is­sues to be dis­cussed by var­i­ous stake­hold­ers. Some of them be­lieved the proposed in­creases posed a se­ri­ous threat to sta­bil­ity in the 2017 aca­demic year. Moseneke said fi­nan­cial ex­clu­sion re­lated to his­toric debt re­mained an un­re­solved chal­lenge to the regis­tra­tion process this year and that stu­dents did not guar­an­tee that vi­o­lence would not flare up again this year.

“The fo­rum made an ef­fort to en­gage with govern­ment on the con­ver­sion of the 8% fee in­crease into an 8% in­crease in govern­ment sub­sidy. To date, this proposed ap­proach or other re­lated ap­proaches have not been in­tro­duced to ad­dress this po­ten­tial threat to sta­bil­ity in the aca­demic year,” Moseneke said.

“Pro­pos­als on govern­ment un­der­writ­ing of his­toric debt have not yet been taken up. At var­i­ous uni­ver­si­ties, stu­dents who are not al­lo­cated Na­tional Stu­dent Fi­nan­cial Aid Scheme (Ns­fas) fund­ing are cur­rently un­able to reg­is­ter for the 2017 aca­demic year on ac­count of his­toric debt.”

Moseneke said the fo­rum had taken note of chal­leng­ing fi­nan­cial and le­gal con­straints that con­front the lead­er­ship of uni­ver­si­ties dur­ing en­gage­ments with univer­sity vicechan­cel­lors and coun­cil chair­per­sons. There were other mod­els of fund­ing that needed to be con­sid­ered as an al­ter­na­tive to Ns­fas be­cause the fund­ing scheme in its cur­rent form was not work­ing.

“Uni­ver­si­ties are im­ple­ment­ing a range of mea­sures that do not elim­i­nate his­toric debt as an ob­sta­cle to regis­tra­tion,” Moseneke said.

Ns­fas was sched­uled to re­lease the fi­nal fund­ing al­lo­ca­tions this week. How­ever, the in­for­ma­tion was not avail­able when City Press ap­proached the scheme and Ns­fas chair­per­son Sizwe Nx­as­ana was also not avail­able.

Moseneke said the out­come of the na­tional con­ven­tion would be sub­mit­ted to the ANC for con­sid­er­a­tion at its up­com­ing pol­icy con­fer­ence this year.

Asked whether the fo­rum would make a sub­mis­sion to the fees com­mis­sion, Bishop Malusi Mpuml­wana said there had not been a decision on the mat­ter yet, but any pro­pos­als made in the con­ven­tion could be used by the com­mis­sion of in­quiry in its re­port set to be re­leased in June.

He said ex­perts in the fo­rum de­cided to come to­gether in the mean­time be­cause there were is­sues that needed to be re­solved at uni­ver­si­ties, in­clud­ing the threat of vi­o­lence.

The fo­rum, through the SA Coun­cil of Churches and the Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Par­ents’ Di­a­logue, had in­ter­acted with min­is­ter in the pres­i­dency Jeff Radebe last year be­fore it was of­fi­cially launched.

It had pushed for the in­clu­sion of Fi­nance Min­is­ter Pravin Gord­han in the in­ter­min­is­te­rial task team led by Radebe after it learnt that Gord­han had been left out, de­spite their plea that Trea­sury be in­cluded. He said Gord­han was sub­se­quently in­cluded.

Musa Nd­wandwe, spokesper­son of the fees com­mis­sion, said the fo­rum would be wel­comed to make a sub­mis­sion to the com­mis­sion.

“The com­mis­sion is an in­clu­sive process and if they were to ap­proach the com­mis­sion, there will be a con­sid­er­a­tion for them to be heard.”

Nd­wandwe said Gord­han was sched­uled to make a pre­sen­ta­tion to the com­mis­sion after the bud­get speech on March 5.

“There are peo­ple in govern­ment who be­lieve all of this is sim­ply an ef­fort to un­seat govern­ment. They don’t think there is a gen­uine ed­u­ca­tion cri­sis. They need to be per­suaded,” Mpuml­wana said.

He also crit­i­cised the man­ner in which govern­ment han­dled the #FeesMustFall protests by de­ploy­ing po­lice and the army. He also be­lieved that it was wrong for the courts to deny bail to Univer­sity of KwaZulu-Natal #FeesMustFall leader, Bonginkosi Khany­ile.

The fo­rum also hoped to tackle the cur­rent lack of food for stu­dents on cam­puses.

In the mean­time, uni­ver­si­ties and stu­dent lead­ers have an­nounced their in­no­va­tive in-house ini­tia­tives to source fund­ing for needy stu­dents.

Bishop Malusi Mpuml­wana and Jus­tice Dik­gang Moseneke are mem­bers of the Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion Cri­sis Fo­rum PHOTO: TEBOGO LETSIE

CON­CERNED

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