#FeesMustFall’s R2.6bn conundrum

October 26, 2015, 11:06am

A student holds a banner aloft during the march to the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Photo by Theana Breugem

By Janet Heard, Media24 Parliamentary Bureau, on News24  

Cape Town - Urgent consultations get under way from Monday to resolve the headache of who will pay the R2.3 billion to R2.6 billion required for the promised 0% increase in tertiary fees for next year.

Confirming that the buck stopped with the higher education and training department to drive the process, deputy director-general Diane Parker said that it was “doable” and “achievable” to meet the commitment and come up with the shortfall.

“We will drive the process, in conjunction with the universities and our partners. It is a promise we all made … we have to find the funds for that 0% increase,” she said amid uncertainty and confusion about the way forward at the weekend.

“We start on Monday, we are working full-time to get it done,” she said. The day would be spent looking at options and budgets, “engaging with every university to make it happen, to find out amounts”.

Both the government and tertiary institutions needed to look for solutions, she said. Some were more able to make a contribution than others, she said, adding that the treasury and the presidency would also be involved.

Parker would not set a deadline, but said it needed to happen timeously ahead of the start of the 2016 academic year.

Parker attended Friday’s crunch meeting with President Jacob Zuma when the 0% agreement was struck with universities and students after a week of mass protests on campuses across the country that extended to Parliament and the Union Buildings. “Everybody must come to the party,” she said. “It was a joint commitment made on Friday.”

The amount required had not yet been verified, though she estimated it was between R2.3 billion and R2.6 billion.

A task team established two weeks ago to look into tertiary student funding concerns was likely to expand its scope following Friday’s meeting, she said. Issues likely to be tackled included broader student demands such as free education from 2017 and the scrapping of outsourcing on campuses.

Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande’s spokesperson Khaye Nkwanyana said that indications were that “besides some factions”, most students were expected back at campuses today to prepare for exams.

Consultations around other issues raised by students would continue, he said.

“The issue of free education is a nonissue in the context of the willingness of the government to implement it. All that is standing in the way … is that the treasury has been unable to expand the budget.”

Welcoming the freeze on fee increases for 2016, the chairperson of the portfolio committee on higher education and training, Yvonne Phosa, called for the implementation of fee-free education to be “accelerated”.