Universities must determine the level of fee adjustments for 2017 themselves‚ with the proviso that this should not be above 8%‚ Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande said on Monday.
Nzimande told a news briefing in Pretoria that the duty of determining university fees rested with the universities and not with him.
He then recommended that university fees be capped at 8% and the process be transparent‚ reasonable and linked to inflation.
Nzimande committed that the government would pay the increase for the students from poor backgrounds.
University fees have become a key national issue following 2015’s #FeesMustFall protests that saw university students take to the streets to protest against the cost of tuition and for improved access to higher education.
Vice-chancellors represented by Universities South Africa have previously said a minimum 8% fee increase was required for 2017.
Nzimande’s statement came despite the ruling ANC’s national executive committee recommendation in August that fees do not rise in 2017‚ despite universities’ precarious financial situation after this year’s fees freeze.
After the students marched on the Union Buildings‚ President Jacob Zuma announced a zero% increase for the 2016 academic year‚ instead of the 6% increase that had been expected. Since then‚ Nzimande has held continuing consultations with university vice-chancellors‚ council chairs‚ student leaders and youth organisations‚ organised labour‚ faith communities and government officials to plot a way forward for the 2017 academic year and into the future.
In 2016‚ the Treasury had allocated an additional R16 billion for higher education‚ following the 0% increase and the crisis in the National Student Financial Aid Scheme‚ by whittling down other departments’ budgets.
A presidential fees commission headed by Justice Jonathan Heher is also looking into the issue. Its mandate is to inquire into‚ report on and make recommendations about the feasibility of free higher education and training. It is expected to submit a preliminary report to President Jacob Zuma in November and a full report in June.
Meanwhile Nzimande also urged those who could afford higher education fees to pay in order for government to help students from poor backgrounds.
Speaking at a briefing in Pretoria on Monday‚ Nzimande said the country’s economic conditions were weak and the tax burden had been rising in recent years.
This‚ he said‚ put pressure on the resources that Treasury has to fund higher education.
“This means that any funding government mobilises to support the pressing challenges in higher education‚ it would need to reprioritise from other government programmes‚” Nzimande said.
“We understand the legitimate student concerns about the affordability of university education. At the same time‚ we need to ensure that those who can afford to pay‚ must pay.”