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LATEST: for statements released by government and other education authorities around the #FeesMustFall issues


The start of #FeesMustFall in 2015

What has happened since mid-October 2015 has been momentous with landmark shifts in the future of the university. Universities will never be the same again.

The events which erupted were propagated by groups of students, sometimes joined by workers, and gained support by some academics all over the country. The first issue to arise was the demand for a more equal higher education system - a very noble and laudable demand which NMMU fully supports. This in itself is a reflection for a demand for a more equal society economy and social system.

South Africa remains to be one of the most deeply divided and unequal societies in the world and for the first time in 21 years, students stood up in universities asking for a more equal dispensation, not just in higher education but in society as a whole. The demand is for poor students with academic abilities and natural talent not to be discriminated against and to be given an equal chance. Why should a poor student living in a township or in a rural community not have the same chances as others in a society that prides itself for the promotion of equality and social justice?

The funding model established by government in 1994 accounting for 54% of a university’s funding has proved unsustainable, especially in the face of an economic downturn. Families are no longer able to meet the growing costs of the increased fees. This annual subsidy from the Department of Higher Education and Training has decreased, while the number of students in the higher education system has doubled to 990 000 since 1994. Added to this, are the failed promises of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

This year, at NMMU, for example, an extra 1720 students who qualified for financial support failed to receive the promised funding. NMMU managed to find funding to support 538 of them.

As a result of all of this, universities countrywide have massive debt, and many are actually bankrupt. It is against this backdrop that the #FeesMustFall was triggered when Wits University announced a 10.5% in mid-October.

It was the students, via the countrywide #FeesMustFall movement, who mobilised Government and the universities to wake up to the realities of an unsustainable system that prejudices the very people it is meant to assist. It also nobly highlighted the plight of the outsourced service workers.

On 21 October the Government announced a 0% fee increase for 2016. For NMMU, this means a shortfall of R52m. Of this, the Government has committed to 70% (R36.4m) and NMMU 30% (R15.6m) of the payment shortfall.