As 2017 approaches, the #FeesMustFall movement again makes the headlines. Reports highlight the need for nationwide university fee hike, yet students are again demanding no increase for 2017 and free education.
No official announcements have as yet been made regarding fees for 2017, however, the South African Union of Students (SAUS) appear to expect an increase. SAUS said: “We note that no official announcement on a fee increment has been made. However we are aware of the possibility that the state is considering a six to eight percent increase in university fees for the year 2017. The Council of Higher Education (CHE) has indicated that Universities require approximately eight percent income to function.
“As the Union we advance the view that it cannot be students who bear the brunt of the increase. It must be the State and the Private sector who carry this cost. In 2016 when the President of the Republic announced the moratorium on fee increments, it was that the State and Universities themselves that covered the costs of the increments – not the student body. In the same light, students must not bear the financial burden of a 2017 increment.”
Students are not the only ones calling for no fee increase for 2017. At the close of the African National Congress (ANC) National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting, ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe, stated: “The NEC resolved that the principle of no-fee increase in universities should remain in place to give chance to a consultative engagement with all stakeholders in order to arrive at an economically viable and affordable cost of higher education.”
In contrast, the Council of Higher Education is reportedly recommending a fee increase for 2017 in line with inflation.
The feasibility of free higher education
The Commission of Inquiry into Free Higher Education (also known as Fees Commission of Inquiry) is investigating the feasibility of free higher education in South Africa. Hearings are already underway, with National Treasury claiming that solutions proposed by the public are not enough make free higher education a reality. Treasury has noted that it will not be able to cover the cost of free higher education.
While the Fees Commission of Inquiry is investigating the feasibility of free higher education, SAUS is not pleased with its mandate. “We reject the fact that the commission is investigating the feasibility of free education instead investigating the modalities of how to realise free and quality education. In the current climate: a very young population, high unemployment rates, a plateaued economic growth and a growing skills gap, we cannot view access to education as a privilege. The question should not be whether South Africa can afford free education but can we afford NOT to have free and quality education.”
Furthermore, SAUS has rejected the establishment of two separate commissions to investigate free education and a possible 2017 free increment. “This is a clear waste of tax payers’ money as well as time. The work of the commission on free education must inform the way forward for 2017,” said SAUS.
A possible solution put forward by Universities South Africa to cover the cost of tertiary education is the implementation of a graduate tax. In July, Justmoney spoke to Professor Ahmed Bawa, CEO of Universities SA (USAF) who explained that while the finer details have not been discussed, a graduate tax would tax working graduates in order to cover the fees for current students.
Other proposals put forward to help cover the cost of university fees include improving the current financial aid system, as well as steps to address the challenges of the ‘missing middle’ (those who cannot afford study loans or to pay for university themselves, but do not qualify for the government financial aid scheme).
It is expected that the Fees Commission of Inquiry will release its report in May 2017.
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