All eyes were fixed on Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande, as the announcement of 2017 university fee adjustments took place earlier today. While Nzimande’s recommendation is to allow individual universities to adjust their fees as needed, a percentage cap of eight percent was suggested.
This, in conjunction with a commitment from government to subsidize the increase shortfall of students who fall within the National Student Financial Aid Scheme ( NSFAS) and missing middle criteria, as an attempt to alleviate the load on poorer students. Despite these recommendations, students remained outraged.
In response, students from various universities, banded together under the #FeesMustFall banner, have already started mobilising.
With heavy police presence on campuses such as The University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and the University of Cape Town (UCT) tension is running high. Wits students have reportedly implemented a university shutdown and universities like UCT have suspended classes for today as their students have taken to mass marches down surrounding main roads.
“Comrades‚ we aren’t going to entertain that eight percent. What we want is simple. We want free education now. Not then. We are shutting down,” stated Wits Student Representative Council (SRC) leadership, according to BD Live.
Nzimande based the suggested eight percent on inflation, which he explained is usually six percent Consumer price index (CPI) plus a further two percent. But students remain firm on their request for government and universities to maintain a moratorium on all fee increments until the goal of free education is achieved.
In addressing this, Nzimande took time explaining that at this stage the notion of free education is not a feasible one, and universities operational costs and facilities will not be able to financially survive another year of no increases.
The commitment to supporting the missing middle was also highlighted by Nzimande. Last year the plight of those who were seemingly too rich for NSFAS funding but still too poor to afford fees were brought to the fore. These students constituted those whose parents earned less than R600 000 a year.
“We have committed to financially supporting and subsidizing the increase amount for those who fall under the NSFAS and missing middle grouping,” stated Nzimande. But some deem this a band aid solution as those in the missing middle will still have to foot the basic fees.
Following last year’s violent spree of protests as students marching in the name of #FeesMustFall clashed with police forces, the government were noticeably cautious in both their decision and the announcement of their decision, this year.
The Presidential commission that was set up to look into the feasibility of free education and how we can achieve it, have yet to deliver their recommendations.
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