Varsities ‘not happy’ with smaller fee increase
Social justice must happen, but universities must still run, say vice-chancellors
Higher education minister Naledi Pandor has recommended that 2019’s tuition fee increase at universities be pegged at 5.3%, which is 2.7% less than this year’s hike.
Times Select has established that Pandor made the suggestion during a meeting of vice-chancellors and chairs of councils on November 23.
It is understood that university councils had until last Friday to inform Pandor’s department whether they would be accepting her recommendation. She is expected to officially announce the 2019 fee increase this week.
At least one vice-chancellor, who wished not to be identified, said he was not happy with the small percentage fee increase for next year.
“They [vice-chancellors] are not happy with it, but there’s nothing they can do. You can go above that figure but politically it’s going to mess you up. Even your students are going to protest like there’s no tomorrow.”
The vice-chancellor added: “As much as we believe there must be social justice, universities must still run.”
But both the vice-chancellor of North West University, Professor Dan Kgwadi, and his counterpart at Sol Plaatje University in the Northern Cape, Professor Yunus Ballim, said the government was going to make a bigger contribution towards the operational costs of universities to make up for the shortfall in fee income.
Kgwadi said the department had committed to grant “some concession” in its block grant or subsidy to universities.
“If we don’t have that, we will simply have to cut on quality, which will not be in anybody’s best interests.”
Ballim said that while the increase was not ideal, they agreed that “this is a holding plan for 2019 as we think of a more structured and constructive way of regularising fees and fee increases”.
“What they [the department] was saying is, for 2019, be measured in your fee increase.”
Professor Ahmed Bawa, chief executive of Universities South Africa, the mouthpiece of the country’s 26 vice-chancellors, said universities have yet to determine their fee levels for 2019.
“Once the councils have made their decision, the minister will make a joint statement with the vice-chancellors.”
From the beginning of this year, poor and working-class students coming from a family with a gross household income of up to R350,000 per year qualified for free higher education.
This year, the government paid the 8% fee increase of those students coming from households earning between R350,000 and R600,000, but it is not clear whether it will subsidise the fee increase of next year's students who fall into this category.
Pandor confirmed that she engaged with the vice-chancellors and chairs of councils on proposals for fee increases for 2019.
“Institutions are currently finalising their discussions with their stakeholders and councils have agreed to provide feedback to me on their decisions.”
She said her department was waiting for the decisions from the outstanding institutions before the outcome was communicated to the public.
Pandor said the minister of finance announced in his 2018/19 budget vote significant additional funds for higher education subsidies.
“The reason for increasing these subsidies was to ensure that institutions are effectively funded. This will allow for processes to be put in place to ensure affordable fees in higher education and curb the practice of high fee adjustments out of kilter with CPI.”
She said all students who benefited from the fee increase grant this year, including those whose family household income was between R350,000 and R600,000, will continue to benefit from a discounted fee until they leave the system.
“Keeping fees at affordable levels so that higher education is accessible to all is an important aspect of the balance that must be maintained.”