Stu­dents’ fu­ture in the bal­ance

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - NEWS - LUKE FOLB

BIG ques­tions re­main over what the gov­ern­ment is go­ing to do about univer­sity fee in­creases next year.

Most uni­ver­si­ties have kept quiet about fee hikes as they are fo­cus­ing on get­ting through the exam pe­riod and com­plet­ing the aca­demic year in time while keep­ing an eye on the gov­ern­ment’s ac­tions.

UCT an­nounced ear­lier this month it would pro­pose a fee in­crease of 8% for tuition and 10% for res­i­dence.

Each univer­sity is go­ing to set its own prices ac­cord­ing to the higher education price in­dex, but the gov­ern­ment has not in­di­cated if it will cover the next 8% in­crease or if it will cover the in­creases into the fu­ture, ac­cord­ing to the univer­sity’s vice-chan­cel­lor Max Price.

He is hop­ing for an an­nounce­ment soon and that if it’s de­cided to cover in­creases, it will be the en­tire in­crease. “Pre­vi­ously there was no gov­ern­ment fund­ing for the miss­ing mid­dle be­cause in 2017 it was the first time that the gov­ern­ment cov­ered the 8% in­crease. Should they make the de­ci­sion to cover the next in­crease then they’ll ef­fec­tively be cov­er­ing 16% of the fees, which means the stu­dents will then be pay­ing the same fees as they were in 2015 be­cause there was no fee in­crease for 2016.”

If the gov­ern­ment does not in­crease sub­si­dies then uni­ver­si­ties will have to cut back on their stu­dent in­takes. Also, top cal­i­bre stu­dents may be lost to over­seas and private in­sti­tu­tions.

The re­cently re­leased Fees Com­mis­sion Re­port pro­posed that higher education be funded by an in­come con­tin­gent-based stu­dent loan. An an­nounce­ment has yet to be made about whether this will be put into ac­tion, but Price has said he would be open to such a fund­ing model.

“Per­son­ally, and this is not nec­es­sar­ily a univer­sity view, I would sup­port some­thing broadly in line with the com­mis­sion’s find­ings but with some sort of grant that cov­ers stu­dents with house­hold in­come of up to R120000 and then above that make it an in­come-con­tin­gent loan you only start pay­ing back once you be­gin earn­ing an in­come.”

Ac­cord­ing to Price, stu­dents on the Na­tional Stu­dent Fi­nan­cial Aid Scheme should not be af­fected by in­creases. “NSFAS cov­ers the av­er­age cost of stud­ies and goes up with in­fla­tion each year, so for peo­ple on NSFAS there should be no neg­a­tive im­pact, pro­vided fees go up by 8%.”

UCT has 7 201 stu­dents out of the 15 214 South African un­der­grad­u­ates who are re­ceiv­ing some fund­ing, which trans­lates to 47% of the un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dents. There are 3407 stu­dents on fi­nan­cial aid, 1134 on gap-fund­ing, known as the “miss­ing mid­dle”, and 2 660 funded by cor­po­rates.

Around 4200 first-year stu­dents will en­rol at UCT next year and Price in­di­cated they would have the same op­por­tu­ni­ties for fund­ing as all other stu­dents.

“The new stu­dents at UCT who are above the NSFAS thresh­old will be in­vited to ap­ply for fund­ing and they will be as­sessed based on their needs to see what they qual­ify for. Ev­ery aca­dem­i­cally el­i­gi­ble stu­dent will be able to come to UCT be­cause we will find the funds,” he said.

Max Price, vice-chan­cel­lor of UCT.

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