Students’ future in the balance
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.