National 11.8.2016 12:50 pm

Vice chancellors acted like spaza shop owners – Nico Cloete

Students protest. Picture: Michel Bega

Students protest. Picture: Michel Bega

The director of the Centre for Higher Education Trust was referring to the crisis during the #FeesMustFall protest, saying they closed shop and called the police.

Director of the Centre for Higher Education Trust (CHET) Dr Nico Cloete on Thursday morning told the Commission of Inquiry into the Higher Education and Training (the Fees Commission) that “vice chancellors acted like spaza shop owners”.

He referred to the crisis during the #FeesMustFall protest.

“They closed shop and called the police,” he told the commission.

He said during the crisis university leadership acted in an uncoordinated manner and handed the problem to the police and the government.

In the submission Cloete questioned if there wasn’t a “third force’’ in student politics.

“We are the academics?” he asked, and said academics have become completely marginalised.

The Fees Commission was initiated by President Jacob Zuma and is looking into the feasibility of free higher education following last year’s #FeesMustFall shutdown by student’s country wide.

Cloete said it was also important to look at political contestations, the functioning and structure of the higher education sector and higher education and inequality, invest in higher education, who benefits from university subsidies, the trilemma of trade-offs, a differentiated fees structure and the need for a pact, and the loss of confidence of the academics.

“We have to invest more money, but we have to ask at the same time where? In which kind of education? People say government subsidy has decreased and it is not true. What decreased is the proportion of the budget which put the universities under a lot of pressure.”

Cloete said naturally the universities did the easy thing and raised their fees.

He added that if you make fees very low at higher education institutions, that the middle class and the rich will benefit more, because more of them are going to university.

“To maintain a competitive edge in a rapidly transforming knowledge economy, countries need to invest more in quality education. But historically SA has not invested enough in higher education, nor has it reached its own target of 1% of GDP on R&D.

“Treasury officials may say that with the latest injection of funding SA is now well over 1% over GDP for higher education but this is “bailout” money. No clear new target for HE expenditure has been set yet.”

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