Change the world

#FeesMustFall

14/10/2016

This letter appeared in the Herald of 14 October 2016

WHEN resolving problems, it is vital to know exactly what the problem is. The problem must be clearly and accurately defined. Thereafter the underlying causes must be identified. Unless the problem is correctly defined, interventions to correct it will not succeed.

What then is the problem that the #FeesMustFall campaign is addressing? What started out as a protest about steep annual student fee increases that made university study unaffordable for poor and middle-income students has morphed into more and more demands. The goalposts have been moved a number of times.

The government’s decision to resolve the problem of escalating student fees in 2015 by imposing a no-fee increase for 2016 has placed enormous pressure on universities to meet their budgets.

Once the activists succeeded in their first demand and received praise for achieving something the vice-chancellors had failed to achieve – that is, alerting the higher education ministry to the fact that university fees needed to be reduced with the aid of the ministry, by increasing its subsidy – the activists immediately made additional demands, such as in-sourcing of outsourced workers like cleaners, security and catering staff.

This has placed additional demands on the financial resources of universities and has created unexpected and unplanned-for problems.

If that isn’t enough, the demand has changed from fees falling to free university education – essentially another shifting of the goalposts, and it has not stopped there. The goalposts keep moving.

Furthermore, in order to justify their attacks on universities, the activists have invoked all the stock phrases used by the ANC and EFF when they do not succeed in getting their way, like “lack of transformation”, “continued white privilege”, “white capitalism” and “neoliberal economic policies”.

This suggests that there are powerfully destructive political influences behind these protests.

The universities have gone out of their way to engage with the activists to seek joint solutions, but it appears that the leaders of the #FeesMustFall campaign are no longer in control but have been overtaken by those with a political agenda that is revolutionary, and who wish to make universities ungovernable. Again, typical ANC and EFF strategies.

The original suggestion still holds that until the real problem is correctly defined and addressed, the matter will remain unresolved. The problem lies with the government that has systematically reduced its subsidy to universities, forcing universities to increase student fees way above inflation.

That is the problem that needs to be addressed, but somehow sight of that has been lost in the chaos that has played out. As many commentators have said, the activists should be knocking on the doors of government to resolve this, not the universities. The solution to the problem lies with the government.

The activists are focusing on the wrong target (universities), and have achieved little other than R600-million worth of damage to valuable university property. They have created untold problems without resolving the real problem. Their conduct has been ruinous, shameful and foolish.

Unfortunately, the cause of the problem – the government – has sat back and let the universities burn. Again, this is a shocking demonstration of the incompetence of those who rule this country.

Tragically, it appears that the activists are puppets in the hands of forces that want to ruin our universities, and with that the economy and the country. With the lack of leadership from those who have been elected to government, we are in serious trouble.

Norman Kemp (Prof), NMMU