The Mercury

Varsities showdown looms

- Ilanit Chernick and Bernadette Wolhuter

ANUMBER of universiti­es around the country were bracing for a complete shutdown on a scale seen last year when the #FeesMustFa­ll campaign swept across most campuses.

This followed Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande’s announceme­nt yesterday that universiti­es could increase fees as long as the increase didn’t exceed 8%.

Student leaders at most universiti­es in Kwa-Zulu-Natal, however, were more circumspec­t, saying they still needed to closely analyse Nzimande’s speech and work on a response.

Students at UKZN Pietermari­tzburg planned a vigil last night. Sphelele Nguse, of the University of Kwa-Zulu-Natal’s Pietermari­tzburg Student Representa­tive Council (SRC), told East Coast Radio they would march from the Pietermari­tzburg campus to the legislatur­e today, demanding free education.

And the Mangosuthu University of Technology’s Ronnie Madlala said Nzimande’s recommenda­tions were not legitimate.

While the government appeared to concede that free higher education was not sustainabl­e, by giving the universiti­es the leeway to set the fee hikes, it also made some concession­s for the students on the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and “the missing middle” - meaning those from families earning less than R600 000 a year.

Nzimande said this group would not face a fee increase for 2017. He was looking at around R2.5 billion to R2.6bn to finance the funding costs.

He had had discussion­s with Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and he would be the one to make the announceme­nt.

Student protests broke out at some institutio­ns immediatel­y after the announceme­nt.

Wits University said it would analyse the minister’s recommenda­tions and consult with the relevant key role players before making recommenda­tions to Council.

The University of Johannesbu­rg said the announceme­nt ensured that around 75% of its students would have a zero percent fee increase in 2017.

The University of Cape Town said it had long raised funds to support the middle-income students.

“This is the first time that the government has allocated funding to this group, recognisin­g its responsibi­lity to ensure affordabil­ity for this group too.

“This funding will enable the universiti­es to consider a fee and bursary regime that avoids increasing the costs of higher education for all students with an annual household income of up to R600 000,” it said.

Unisa said that it was considerin­g several national processes to determine a more permanent and affordable solution to the fees issue.

However, students were still determined to protest against any form of increase, with many vowing to disrupt academic activities at their respective campuses. This included those from Wits, UCT, Free State and Pretoria.

At Wits University, yells of anger and frustratio­n echoed through Solomon Mahlangu House, where thousands of students had gathered to listen to the announceme­nt.

“Comrades, we aren’t going to entertain that 8%! We want free education now.

“We are shutting down,” shouted incoming Students Representa­tive Council (SRC) president Kefentse Mkhari.

He urged students to remain peaceful as they marched across the campus in a bid to disrupt lectures and encourage more students to join in.

EFF student command chair at Wits, Koketso Poho, echoed these sentiments, shouting that “education for all or no education at all”.

Several students said they would fight as long as it took to have no increase put in place.

A student who only identified herself as Thabile said: “If the government had money for jets, Nkandla and condoms, then they could find the money for education.”

Thandeka said: “We’re unhappy about this; varsity fees are already a burden and we still owe loans, how are we going to cope with another increase? We have no choice but to fight it.”

 ?? PICTURE: NOKUTHULA MBATHA ?? Wits students shut down the campus yesterday, unhappy at Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande’s announceme­nt on fee increase for 2017.
PICTURE: NOKUTHULA MBATHA Wits students shut down the campus yesterday, unhappy at Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande’s announceme­nt on fee increase for 2017.
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