Fees CAN fall

Finweek English Edition - - THE OPTIMIST’S GUIDE: UNIVERSITY FEES - By Natalie Greve

in a year of do­mes­tic news events that seized lo­cal au­di­ences, the flurry of #FeesMustFall (FMF) protests that found trac­tion across the coun­try’s prov­inces proved among the most ar­rest­ing. De­spite higher ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter Blade Nz­i­mande in Septem­ber capping univer­sity fee in­creases at 8% and as­sur­ing that gov­ern­ment would as­sist house­holds with an in­come of up to R600 000 a year with any fee in­creases, stu­dents main­tained the call first made in 2015 for free higher ed­u­ca­tion, em­bark­ing on force­ful cam­pus-wide protests in re­sponse.

The some­times an­ar­chic scenes of stu­dent demon­stra­tions were, how­ever, by the end of October largely paci­fied by the in­stal­la­tion of South African Po­lice Ser­vice (Saps) mem­bers and pri­vate se­cu­rity on cam­puses and the ar­rest of sev­eral stu­dent lead­ers.

At the Univer­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand’s Braam­fontein cam­pus, the de­ci­sion to re­tain po­lice mem­bers on cam­pus was made fol­low­ing an on­line poll through which 21 000 of the 30 000 stu­dents polled – or 77% – sup­ported the re­sump­tion of lec­tures and en­hanced cam­pus se­cu­rity.

While some, in­clud­ing FMF stu­dent lead­ers, have viewed the al­leged “mil­i­tari­sa­tion” of cam­puses as a vi­o­la­tion to in­sti­tu­tions of learn­ing, South African In­sti­tute of Race Re­la­tions (IRR) fel­low Sara Gon ar­gues the move has set the coun­try up for a pos­si­ble re­cov­ery from the seem­ing per­pe­tu­ity of feesre­lated protests.

“Calm needs to be re­stored on cam­puses, even if the cam­puses need to be mil­i­tarised. Univer­sity man­age­ment struc­tures must bring ap­pro­pri­ate num­bers of po­lice and se­cu­rity of­fi­cers onto cam­puses and keep them there even in the face of pub­lic crit­i­cism,” she states.

The restora­tion of or­der

In a po­si­tion pa­per ti­tled Fees can fall, but first, pub­lished by the IRR in early Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria (UP) stu­dents gather dur­ing a can­dle light­ing cer­e­mony for the ar­rested fel­low stu­dents held in October in Pre­to­ria. The cer­e­mony was or­gan­ised by UP #FeesMustFall move­ment. Novem­ber, Gon holds that it is pos­si­ble to ad­dress the ques­tion of ac­cess to higher ed­u­ca­tion for poor stu­dents, but only once cam­pus law and or­der has been re-es­tab­lished and uni­ver­si­ties are func­tion­ing in a sta­ble man­ner.

This will, how­ever, re­quire the adop­tion of a hard­line ap­proach by uni­ver­si­ties, as the de­mands of the pro­tes­tors can­not be met by uni­ver­si­ties and have been pur­sued “in an il­le­gal man­ner”.

“Uni­ver­si­ties have al­lowed a pa­tro­n­is­ing ap­pease­ment to take place – a po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness, be­cause a lot of the al­ter­ca­tions be­tween the uni­ver­si­ties and stu­dents have not been held in good faith. Agree­ments have been breached, meet­ings have been can­celled and the peo­ple that have been ne­go­ti­at­ing these meet­ings don’t nec­es­sar­ily have a man­date to do so,” she states.

The in­sti­tute fur­ther sug­gests that the long-term stand­ing of SA’s in­sti­tu­tions of higher learn­ing can be se­cured if they cease ne­go­ti­a­tions with un­rep­re­sen­ta­tive groups and those with­out clear man­dates.

“Cer­tainly do not ac­cede to de­mands made by such groups and do not in­dulge them with of­fers of amnesty and the like,” says Gon.

She adds that Saps mem­bers should be re­tained on cam­pus for a pe­riod of six months, with se­cu­ri­ti­sa­tion ceas­ing only when law and or­der returns.

“If these points are strictly ad­hered to it should be pos­si­ble to com­plete the 2016 aca­demic year and start the 2017 year on time and there­fore put the higher ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem back on a sta­ble course.”

The ces­sa­tion of all sub­si­dies to paras­tatals and other en­ti­ties could de­liver an es­ti­mated R45bn a year, while a 5% snip to the state’s wage bill would de­liver an­other R22bn.

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