Last year, mass protest action swept through the country when students took to the streets, under the banner of #FeesMustFall. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency
Universities South Africa (USAf) has announced an 8% cap on fee increases for 2018.

The umbrella organisation - which represents all of the country’s 26 public higher education institutions - said in a statement yesterday that while the issue of fee-free education was yet to be settled, universities could not continue putting off their financial planning.

The 2018 academic year was “literally upon us,” USAf said, and universities had to draw up realistic budgets that would allow them to function come January.

USAf said it had made representations to Higher Education Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize and that it wanted the same dispensation that was in place in 2017, repeated next year.

In 2017, universities were allowed to increase their fees by up to 8% and government committed to covering that increase for students whose household income was less R600 000 per year.

“USAf is pleased to say that that discussion was very constructive and the minister agreed to make a formal announcement about the decision of the national government in this regard,” it said.

The universities body said increases were linked to the higher education price index (HEPI), which ran at about 1.7% above the consumer price index.

“HEPI is influenced by the nature of the basket of expenditures that make up universities’ budgets,” it said. “And so, the vast majority of the 26 universities have come together to determine that the inflationary income adjustment increase for 2018 will be set at 8%”.

The University of Kwazulu-Natal (UKZN) had not yet made a decision on its fee increase for next year, a spokesperson said yesterday.

But the secretary-general of UKZN’s central Student Representative Council (SRC), Siphelele Nguse, said their view was that there should not be a fee increment.

“It doesn’t make sense to increase fees, while we are fighting for fee-free education. It’s taking steps backwards,” he said.

Nguse would not be drawn to comment on whether or not there would be unrest if UKZN were to announce an 8% increase for 2018.

Last year, mass protest action swept through the country when students took to the streets, under the banner of #FeesMustFall.

“But what I can say is that students don’t want a fee increment. They want fee-free education,” he said. ““What about the Heher Commission? What was the point of that?”

The long awaited report from the Heher Commission into the Feasibility of Fee-Free Higher Education and Training, was finally released last month.

It found that government could not foot the bill for free education.

But President Jacob Zuma reportedly has his own plans to source funding for free education from various government departments, which the Sunday Times last month reported was being headed up by the president’s future son-in -law. 

The Durban University of Technology’s (DUT’s) senior director of corporate affairs, Alan Khan, said yesterday that inflation - coupled with academic and administrative salaries, the costs of maintaining infrastructure and other teaching and learning necessities - had forced DUT to increase its fees for 2018.

“In addition, the fact that government subsidies have declined in recent years has further driven up costs for universities,” he said. “However, DUT welcomes the recommendations of the Heher report into higher education funding, specifically calling for government to increase expenditure on universities by 1% of the GDP."

Khan indicated that their fees were going up by between 7.6% and 8%.

SRC president Sphephelo Mthembu said yesterday an 8% increase could result in “instability” next year.

Mthembu said as far as he was concerned, the SRCs had not been consulted.

“And they should have been,” he said. “Fee increases can’t just be determined without consulting the majority stakeholders - the students”.

The Mercury