National 14.8.2016 10:05 pm

Calm down, fees aren’t rising yet – Blade

Blade Nzimande jokes with journalists at the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) special meeting at the St George Hotel in Irene on Monday, 19 May 2014. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA

Blade Nzimande jokes with journalists at the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) special meeting at the St George Hotel in Irene on Monday, 19 May 2014. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande on Sunday reiterated government had not yet pronounced on 2017 university fees and called for cool heads to prevail.

Nzimande had noted with concern threats to shut down the country’s universities amid false claims that government had recommended a fee increase for the 2017 academic year, he said in a statement.

“The government is yet to pronounce itself on university fee adjustments for 2017. The correct position is that after I received the report of the Council on Higher Education on their recommendation for 2017 fee adjustments last Thursday I decided to gather further views and suggestions from all stakeholders, including students and university councils, before proceeding with any announcement on the matter.

“Given the competing views on fee adjustments, it is indeed imperative that we get as broad a consensus as possible regarding 2017 fees. The false claims that the government has already pronounced itself on the matter are thus not only mischievous, but highly prejudicial to the delicate stakeholder engagements that are taking place,” Nzimande said, calling for patience from all stakeholders.

In the meantime, he would also continue to consult with his Cabinet colleagues on the matter in an earnest endeavour to find long-term solutions.

Messages have been doing the rounds on social networks on Sunday warning students of impending massive protests against fee increases for 2017. The protests would reportedly start on Monday.

Last week, the SA Union of Students (SAUS) hinted at another series of crippling mass protests after making its presentation to the Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training chaired by Judge Jonathan Arthur Heher in Pretoria.

“We are very disappointed by the slow pace of the commission and the arrogance portrayed by Judge Heher. We are very disappointed and we are putting it on record that we have the masses of our people behind us and we are going to meet in the streets,” SAUS secretary general Sthembiso Ndlovu told reporters.

“They have told us that for the past six months they have been dealing with logistics. As a union we are now going to travel the length and breadth of this country, interacting with our students in mass meetings at institutions of higher learning. We will be reporting on what happened here today.”

Ndlovu said a way forward regarding the students’ reaction to the high fees paid at universities would be discussed and found at those mass meetings.

“If students say let us go and study at the Union Buildings, or let us go and study at Parliament, who are we to defy the mandate given to us by the students? We are very disappointed,” said Ndlovu.

The SAUS was first to make submissions to the commission of inquiry into the burning issue of higher education funding. In July, President Jacob Zuma extended the deadline by which the commission should complete its work. The commission, announced by Zuma in January following last year’s countrywide protests over the escalating costs of higher education, was meant to complete its work within eight months.

“The commission will now complete its work by 30 June 2017. The extension was done on the request of the chairperson of the commission, Justice Heher,” Zuma’s office said in a statement recently.

“The commission is expected to submit a preliminary report to the president on or before 15 November 2016.”

Last year a number of university campuses were shut down after the #FeesMustFall campaign gained momentum and even saw students storm Parliament. This led Zuma to announce a zero percent fee hike for the 2016 academic year.

Meanwhile, the top structure of the ANC, the national executive committee (NEC), has resolved that the prevailing policy of no fee increases at South African universities must continue, secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said on Sunday evening.

“The NEC resolved that the principle of no fee increases in universities should remain in place to give a chance to a consultative engagement with all stakeholders in order to arrive at an economically viable and affordable cost of higher education,” Mantashe told journalists at the end of the NEC’s four-day conference in Pretoria.

Asked how the governing party expected higher education institutions to survive amid the declining state subsidies and unparalleled student growth, Mantashe said this was not a call for a ban on future fee increases.

“We’re not saying fee increases are banned. That is not what we are saying. We are saying hold on, do not rush into fee increases before you complete your consultations and engagement,” he said.

“Whatever you do must be economically viable and must [also] be affordable for higher education. If you just take a principle that there must be no fee increases, you may actually collapse the system. That is all we’re saying at this time. Don’t rush into fee increases now. Hold back until the consultation process is complete.”

– African News Agency (ANA)

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