The beginning of this year saw a number of events taking place in South Africa, one crucial one being the return of last year’s historic student movement, #FeesMustFall. Students from a few universities such as Wits University, University of Johannesburg and of Pretoria have started with the protests, with the demand of Free Education.
Last year the protests ended after the president declared nationally that there will be a zero fees increase for 2016. Despite this, students across the country were still not satisfied as their bigger cause is to achieve free education for poor South Africans in tertiary institutions. The South African government has received the demands with contempt, as the Minister of Higher Education; Blade Nzimande has explicitly said that from his perspective, free tertiary education is not practical in South Africa. Instead, the ministry has offered to increase the amount allocated to the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) for the year 2016 to an additional R6.9 billion on top of the already provided R10 billion. This contingency plan will be accompanied by an intensive inquiry by the department to come up with long –term solutions to solving this national crisis.
In an address to the nation, the President, Jacob Zuma stated that, “more students from poor households received funding for higher education in 2015 and this matter will receive further attention in the New Year.” However despite the president’s pledge, there is a much deeper contestation between the state and universities with regards to the issue. At the centre of this apparent tug of war is the lack of balance between institutional autonomy and public accountability - meaning there is a continuous pointing of fingers between the state and the individual universities with regards to funding shortage.
At a press conference this past Monday, Nzimande said that there were over 500,000 post-school education opportunities available for students other than universities and technical education as well as training colleges.
“We need to ensure, over the medium to long term, that sufficient financial aid is made available to support all academically deserving but financially needy university students though income contingent loans and bursaries, and at the same time to strive to keep university fees affordable,” the Minister explained.
Already, as universities open their doors for registration, many poor students have taken to social media, such as Twitter under the hashtag #IwantToStudy2016 to ask for financial assistance to those who can, for the exorbitant registration fees at most SA universities.
Some tweets include:
My cousin is doing her final (3rd) year at Wits, BSC in urban & regional planning and needs funding. Please assist #iWantToStudy2016
Black middle class. Not poor enough for government funding. Not rich enough to pay for tuition. #iWantToStudy2016
please pay for my fees, want to study Mathematical Sciences, have incredible marks, been accepted just need funding #iWantToStudy2016
National Department of Tourism is giving away bursaries. Applications close 15 Jan 2016 #iWantToStudy2016
#iWantToStudy2016 Dear black business, those with power help our brothers and sisters study so black people can be truly emancipated
At the current moment, universities such Wits University have suspended their campus registration following disruptions by protestors who are demanding free registration for all students. The Vice-Chancellor, Adam Habib has since advised all prospective students to register online. Furthermore, Habib expressed his dissatisfaction with the manner in which the protests have been conducted. According to Habib in as much as the protests are reasonable and democratic, they should not inconvenience others or limit their freedom.
“I don’t think it’s legitimate to stop the registration. I think the demand to bring down the cost of higher education is something the university has supported but I’ve also said the way we do so must be clever and thoughtful,” Habib explained.
As more universities are set to open, the protest is intended to grow and could become nation-wide again. To try alleviate this disruption, Minister Nzimande is said to be in robust talks with the various SRC leaders of the universities across SA.