Protests increase urgency for new initiatives to ensure sustainability
With less than two months till the end of the academic year, students still owe NMMU more than R175-million in outstanding fees. This news comes as the university’s shutdown enters its fourth week, with students demanding free tertiary education for the poor.
NMMU spokeswoman Debbie Derry said the university was owed a staggering R175-million in outstanding fees for this year alone, while students also still owed R23.9-million in fees for previous years.
The R175-million owed at the end of last month was 3.7% higher than in previous years.
Derry said this could be attributed to a university intervention which allowed students to pay off their R6 200 registration fees instead of an upfront payment being required at the start of the year.
“Obviously there are some who have not yet paid,” she said.
#FeesMustFall activist Azola Dayile said the student debt highlighted their cause and was a reminder that the majority of students could not afford the high cost of tertiary education.
“That is exactly the case we have been trying to make. People simply do not have the money . . . The money that is owed is a reflection and a reminder that they cannot pay,” Dayile said.
“We need government’s assistance in scrapping this debt and we need them to increase the budget for higher education.”
Dayile said it was frustrating that the government had not presented a viable solution to the crisis as yet.
Student representative council president Nicholas Nyathi said: “The issue of student debt is a huge challenge that needs to be addressed.
“We have suggested we look at the expected family contribution when it comes to each student, to see what their expenses are and what they can afford.”
He said the R23.9-million historical debt should be scrapped and paid for by the Department of Higher Education.
Derry said besides fees, the university also relied on private gifts and grants, investment income, and revenue from third-stream activities for its operating expenses.
She said the university had determined that its present funding model was not sustainable.
“As such, NMMU recognised that it needed to review its business model and seek new revenue streams – hence its decision to actively pursue the exciting sustainable benefits that will come with the establishment of a new Ocean Sciences campus and medical school,” she said.
She said NMMU had started these interventions long before the #FeesMustFall movement began a year ago.
“However, with the impact of the #FeesMustFall campaign – with increased costs to NMMU in terms of debt and downpayment relief and its commitment to insource outsourced services – there is now increased urgency to make this happen.”
She said NMMU has also initiated various measures to secure its long-term sustainability by:
- Restructuring the university’s fundraising arm, the NMMU Trust, including a unit that will focus specifically on lobbying for additional funding for student bursaries and scholarships;
- Reviewing the strategic and financial viability of its academic programmes;
- Reassessing organisational structures to ensure fitness-for-purpose; and
- Remodelling institutional operations, including the reintegrated services.
With regard to the university’s continued closure in the wake of #FeesMustFall protests, NMMU spokeswoman Zandile Mbabela said after a management meeting last night that in light of the volatility in the higher education sector countrywide yesterday, academic activities at NMMU would remain suspended.
Meanwhile, the Grahamstown High Court will hear an urgent application today by Brin Brody, of the Grahamstown firm of Wheeldon, Rushmere and Cole, which is representing a large group of parents who want NMMU reopened.