Durban - KwaZulu-Natal universities will not come cheap for parents this year, with fee increases ahead of between nine and 12 percent.
The universities have cited a host of reasons for the increases – with inflation, infrastructural upgrades and the need to keep abreast with academic development being the main ones.
But the leading student organisation in the country, the SA Students Congress (Sasco), is not happy with the increases, as it believes they make it more difficult for students from poor and working class families to get an education at South African universities.
“We have continuously raised this concern with the universities, and we see it as a way to stop students from poor backgrounds to go to universities; registration fees become difficult to afford when the fees are so high,” said Ntuthukho Makhombothi, Sasco president.
“Students are unable to access education, and this indicates our call for free education in the higher education institutions, because higher education has become unaffordable in South Africa… we have said government must introduce a law to regulate the increases to make education more affordable for working class parents,” he said.
Makhombothi said fees contributed to students dropping out of university, and said mass action was to be expected.
“Once the institutions have opened, we will engage with students about what action to take. If university management are unable to hear us, we will go to mass action and mobilise because there are few things you are able to achieve without mass action,” he said.
Makhombothi urged universities to register as many students as they could accommodate.
The Durban University of Technology’s (DUT) chief financial officer, Dheopersadh Kumar, confirmed a 9 percent increase for the 2014 academic year and for residential fees. She said this was because of an increase in the cost of utilities, the maintenance of buildings, IT infrastructure and other operating expenditure.
“All the relevant student bodies have been consulted regarding this matter,” she said.
The University of KwaZulu-Natal’s (UKZN) director of student services, Dr Sibusiso Chalufu, said academic fees would increase by 12 percent and residential fees by 9 percent this year.
More than R93 million had been assigned to scholarships and R365m for bursaries for this year.
The university would invest millions in upgrading wireless facilities across all campuses and off-campus residences, maintenance of residences, purchasing of fridges, microwaves, washing machines, refurbishing lecture theatres at the medical school, purchasing of mobile homes for student doctors at four hospitals, new SRC offices and new lockers for students.
“Substantial funding has been allocated to enhance the academic endeavour with respect to infrastructure development, wireless communication, sport, residences and disability support services,” he said.
The university would also invest in CCTV surveillance to improve security this year and would buy golf carts to transport sick students on campus.
The Mangosuthu University of Technology’s (MUT) spokesman, Bheki Hlophe, said the increases had been communicated to the SRC. He said the SRC had yet to inform the students.
He could not confirm the increase but said it would take into account inflation and faculty-specific requirements.
The University of Zululand was yet to determine the fee and residential increases for this year.
Elsewhere in the country, the University of Johannesburg said academic fees would increase by 9.5 percent, and residential fees would range from R16 380 and R28 756 this year – varying on whether the residence was on campus or not, and if a student occupied a single or double room.
The University of Cape Town’s (UCT) spokeswoman, Gerda Kruger, said a 10.7 percent academic fees increase had been set for this year, a 15 percent increase for catered residences and an average of 13 percent for self-catering residences.
“Universities are very expensive to run. Close to 65 percent of costs at UCT are associated with our highly-qualified and experienced staff.
“A further major cost relates to the provision and maintenance of our estate.
“Costs also include a wide range of support services such as libraries, laboratories, transport, security, counselling and healthcare services, in addition to the cross-subsidisation of financially needy students,” she said.
“All universities receive the same per capita subsidy from the state… The process of setting fees at UCT is an inclusive and consultative one and takes place over a period of eight weeks,” she said.