Uni­ver­si­ties ini­ti­ate talks on 2018 fee in­creases

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

At least three uni­ver­si­ties have em­barked on hold­ing dis­cus­sions about 2018 ter­tiary fee in­creases, while Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma sits on the He­her com­mis­sion re­port on the fea­si­bil­ity of free higher ed­u­ca­tion.

Zuma has promised to study its rec­om­men­da­tions and make it pub­lic, but a month has passed since he re­ceived the re­port. The com­mis­sion was headed by Judge Jonathan He­her.

Mean­while, North-West Univer­sity (NWU), along with the Free State’s Cen­tral Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy (CUT) and the West­ern Cape’s Stel­len­bosch Univer­sity (SU), have qui­etly ini­ti­ated talks with stu­dent bod­ies and in­ter­est groups seek­ing to find com­mon ground for their “pre­lim­i­nary” bud­gets and to come up with an am­i­ca­ble so­lu­tion to what ap­pears to be a stale­mate be­tween the ex­pec­ta­tions of the #FeesMustFall stu­dent move­ment, the pres­i­dency and ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions.

The three in­sti­tu­tions men­tioned above told City Press this week that they had taken the ini­tia­tive to dis­cuss pos­si­ble fee in­creases for 2018 rather than wait un­til it was too late.

Di­rec­tor of the Cen­tre for Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Trust Dr Nico Cloete said uni­ver­si­ties had no choice but to come up with pro­posed bud­gets for next year.

He said last-minute an­nounce­ments on fee in­creases of­ten desta­bilised uni­ver­si­ties’ plan­ning sys­tems – as had been the case at South Africa’s ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions for the past three years.

This also neg­a­tively af­fected stu­dents, he said. Daniel Maritz, the spokesper­son for CUT, said although a fi­nal fig­ure on fee in­creases for next year would be con­cluded once Zuma made the re­port avail­able, the univer­sity coun­cil had, in the mean­time, ap­proved a “pre­lim­i­nary 2018 bud­get”.

Maritz said the coun­cil had ar­rived at a “pre­lim­i­nary fee in­crease of 8%, to al­low the univer­sity to plan prop­erly for the new year”.

He added that the Stu­dents’ Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Coun­cil (SRC) at­tended the meet­ing re­gard­ing the bud­get. He said that, once the fees com­mis­sion re­port was re­leased, a proper process would be fol­lowed with the stu­dent body, via the stu­dent fees com­mit­tee, to an­a­lyse it and its im­pli­ca­tions for the univer­sity.

“The univer­sity man­age­ment re­mains com­mit­ted to con­struc­tive and trans­par­ent en­gage­ments with all stake­hold­ers, but [we are] gravely con­cerned about the de­lay in the re­lease of the re­port as stu­dent fees re­main a very sen­si­tive is­sue at uni­ver­si­ties,” said Maritz.

“The de­lay cer­tainly ham­pers our ef­forts as uni­ver­si­ties to en­sure sta­ble univer­sity cam­puses, con­ducive to qual­ity teach­ing and learn­ing, and a smooth Novem­ber as­sess­ment process.”

NWU spokesper­son Louis Ja­cobs said the univer­sity was cur­rently busy with bud­get­ing for 2018 and only af­ter con­sul­ta­tion with the SRC would a rec­om­men­da­tion be made to NWU’s fi­nance com­mit­tee for con­sid­er­a­tion. SU spokesper­son Martin Viljoen said the univer­sity was also hold­ing dis­cus­sions with the cam­pus com­mu­nity re­gard­ing fee in­creases for 2018.

“A fi­nal de­ci­sion will be taken by coun­cil at its meet­ing in Novem­ber,” Viljoen said.

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Her­man Ester­huizen, spokesper­son for the Univer­sity of Jo­han­nes­burg (UJ) said that, while wait­ing for Zuma’s pro­nounce­ments on no-fee higher ed­u­ca­tion, the univer­sity would con­tinue to seek ways of fur­ther ex­tend­ing fi­nan­cial and other sup­port to its most vul­ner­a­ble stu­dents.

“UJ is con­stantly en­gag­ing with its SRC, as well as stu­dent so­ci­ety lead­ers and house com­mit­tees,” he said.

Cloete said such de­lays ul­ti­mately led to a dis­rup­tion of the aca­demic year and univer­sity op­er­a­tions.

He said only peo­ple who did not know how ter­tiary in­sti­tu­tions op­er­ated would be un­con­cerned, adding that now was a cru­cial time for uni­ver­si­ties to bud­get and in­form stu­dents about fees for next year.

Cloete said this was the “worst time pos­si­ble” to make an an­nounce­ment that might dis­rupt ex­ams.

He added that Zuma might have de­layed mak­ing an an­nounce­ment about in­creases since re­ceiv­ing the re­port “to avoid trig­ger­ing an­other na­tional mo­bil­i­sa­tion of stu­dents”, which could dis­rupt ex­ams.

Luthando Ty­hal­i­bongo, spokesper­son for the Univer­sity of the West­ern Cape, said dis­cus­sions about fees of­ten took place an­nu­ally dur­ing the last quar­ter of the year.

“If the pres­i­dency makes an an­nounce­ment in the next few days or weeks, the dis­cus­sions will prob­a­bly be cen­tred on the re­port’s rec­om­men­da­tion,” he said.

Ver­non van der Linde, the chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer at Wal­ter Sisulu Univer­sity in the Eastern Cape, said the univer­sity had not yet com­menced any en­gage­ment with stu­dents re­gard­ing fee in­creases for 2018. “We await the re­lease of the He­her com­mis­sion re­port.”

Sim­i­lar an­swers were re­ceived from the uni­ver­si­ties of Pre­to­ria, Cape Town and the Wit­wa­ter­srand, as well as from Tsh­wane Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy.

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