Universities South Africa disturbed over continued damage at universities

Fees Must Fall protests erupting at Central University of Free State's Bloemfontein campus. FILE PHOTO: MARK STEENBOK

Universities South Africa (USAf) is deeply disturbed by the continuing damage to the academic programmes and the infrastructure of many of the universities.

In a statement, USAf says there is growing anxiety that the academic project of 2016 is in serious jeopardy. “While we are committed to the idea that students have every right to engage in protests and activism in their quest for fee-free higher education, we are also increasingly despairing of the nature of these protests. Damage sustained by the university sector in the last year due to student protests is estimated to have now exceeded the R600 million mark.”

USAf indicates that it understands the Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande’s statement of the 19th of September this year, to be a serious interim solution in determining how higher education should be funded. There are three key elements in that statement that allowed USAf to align with it.

  • First, it partially addresses the need for an 8% increase in income to the universities for 2017.
  • Second, this is the first time that the state, in the funding of universities, has recognised a priority in meeting the needs of that group of students we refer to as the ‘missing middle’.
  • Third, the provisions of the Minister’s statement, together with the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) – as imperfect as it may currently be – do address the need for students from the poorest families.

As an interim outcome, the State intervention advances both the short-term financial security of the universities. It also provides some hints about the longer-term approach to understanding how best to fund higher education in a society as unequal as ours.

USAf’s Chief Executive Officer, Professor Ahmed Bawa said if #FeesMustFall was about advancing the cause of access to universities for the poor, then the Ministerial announcement on the 2017 tuition fee adjustments was a direct response to the poorest of the poor, and to the so-called missing middle students.

“Given the interim nature of the Minister’s intervention, the current shutdown at some institutions is extremely difficult to understand.”

In the interest of stability and continuity of quality teaching and learning, Bawa appealed to parents who are financially able to pay for their children’s university education to continue doing so, while the state partially meets the needs of poor but academically deserving students.

USAf will continue to work with its university members, with the Department of Higher Education and Training and other national players and stakeholders to salvage what remains of this fractured academic year.

Statement Issued by the Universities South Africa (USAf)