Universities are in a scramble to rescue what is left of the academic year after disgruntled student groups vowed a nationwide shutdown following yesterday’s fee announcement.
At a meeting held at NMMU’s south campus last night, students vowed to shut down the university today.
Student leader Lufefe Mkutu said after the packed-to-capacity meeting, which only started at about 8pm, that the students believed their request for free education had been misunderstood.
He would not say how long the proposed shutdown would last.
Earlier, NMMU Student Representative Council president Nicholas Nyati said the fee announcement did not “solve our existing funding problems as students”.
NMMU spokeswoman Zandile Mbabela said late last night: “We are aware of talks of a possible campus shutdown following the student group meetings.
“We will monitor the situation and will communicate accordingly.”
University of the Witwatersrand students will march on the JSE today‚ accusing the bourse of being part of the “capitalisation of higher education”.
Students made the call for a nationwide shutdown following meetings around the country that continued late into the night.
The tense situation‚ which bears striking similarities to what happened last year‚ was triggered by Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande’s announcement that universities could go ahead with fee increases for next year‚ capped at 8%.
Nzimande announced that:
• The government would continue to fund poor students via the National Student Financial Aid scheme (NSFAS);
• Universities would decide on the fee increase for 2017, not to exceed 8%; and
• An estimated R2.6-billion would be found to fund the increases for students whose parents’ income was under R600 000 but who did not qualify for NSFAS funding.
Nzimande said this category of students, known as the missing middle, made up more than 70% of the total undergraduate student population in higher education institutions.
“As to where the money will come from, unfortunately I am not the minister of finance. I cannot address that,” he said.
The Treasury did not respond to requests for comment.
Nzimande’s decision has widely been welcomed by university management, including NMMU’s acting vice-chancellor, Dr Sibongile Muthwa, who praised the provision made for the “missing middle”.
“We welcome the announcement as it . . . gives more clarity as to what the university can and should do to take forward plans for 2017 and 2018,” she said.
Rhodes University vice-chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela said: “We particularly welcome the government’s commitment to assist students who come from poor and working class families and those who come from mid-level income families.
“This will bring much-needed relief on these categories of students.”
However, hours after Nzimande’s announcement, students at various universities began mobilising for a shutdown.
Wits University said it had deployed additional security‚ and that police were on standby. The institution is expecting the academic programme to continue.
University spokeswoman Shirona Patel said negotiations with student leaders would continue.
The University of Johannesburg said students were due back from a break next week and it would assess the situation then.
The University of Cape Town has suspended classes and closed facilities‚ maintaining that it had received threats of arson attacks and protests.
The University of Free State suspended academic activities yesterday amid a call for a complete shutdown from its SRC.
After the meeting at NMMU last night, Mkutu said: “We don’t think the announcement made by the minister fully addresses our needs as students.
“We think it is a reversal on what has been said previously and it shows the minister does not understand what we as students meant when we requested free education.
“To make free education viable, a corporate tax needs to be introduced.
“Equally, there needs to be a prioritisation of the budget allocation.
“You cannot have a situation where the government spends trillions of rands on arms, but does not have enough to spend on the youth.”
Experts have slammed the minister’s decision to pass the burden of deciding on fee increases, capped at 8%, to universities.
Educational analyst Graeme Bloch said while Nzimande was correct to say the rich must pay, the decision to let universities decide on the increase amount was a cop-out and could cause varying increases.
Economist Dawie Roodt said Nzimande had opened a can of worms with his decision to cover the fees for students on the NSFAS and the missing middle.
Roodt said the state had no budget to cover the costs.