Rhodes not about to close down, says vice-chancellor Sizwe MabizelaDate Released: Wed, 20 July 2016 11:37 +0200
by Bekezela Phakathi
RHODES University, one of SA’s top tertiary institutions, which has faced major cash flow problems in recent months, insisted on Wednesday that it remained a "going concern".
Reports emerged earlier in July that the university had less than two months of funds remaining to cover its financial commitments such as salaries, electricity, water and food for the dining halls.
The university’s cash flow crisis was triggered by last year’s a zero percent fee increase and the decision to reduce the minimum initial payment (a deposit for the full tuition and residence fees) from 50% to 10% following the nationwide #FeesMustFall protests.
In an e-mailed communiqué to alumni, parents, donors and funders of the university, Rhodes University vice-chancellor Sizwe Mabizela said that the institution was not about to close down.
"Let me state from the outset that Rhodes University is a going concern. It is not about to close down. The financial strain currently experienced by Rhodes University is experienced by all public universities in SA," said Mabizela.
"Given its smallness, Rhodes University is particularly vulnerable and sensitive to changes in its funding streams that are a result of a fiscally strained national environment in which we find ourselves."
The Eastern-Cape-based university has a student population of just of 8,000.
Mabizela explained that following the #FeesMustFall protests of 2015, the university entered into a number of agreements with the students regarding fee payment arrangements for 2016, including the reduction of the minimum initial payment from 50% to 10%. The agreement was that students would make payment arrangements for the balance of 90% of their fees.
"Some students paid the 10% registration fee in February and have not paid anything since then. Others who had made payment arrangements have not honoured them. By the beginning of June, some 1,616 had either paid very little or nothing more than the 10% registration fee. This has placed our cash-flow, which was previously covered by the minimum initial payment, under severe strain," he said.
Subsequently, in June the university took a decision to withhold the first semester results of the 1,616 students who had made very little progress in paying or had made no arrangements for the payment of their fees.
"As at July 15 2016, 818 of the 1,616 students had either paid or made appropriate payment arrangements with the university. Their results were released immediately. The payments made since July 6 2016 have totalled R12m," said Mabizela. This had significantly improved the university’s cash flow.
The university had also implemented austerity measures and was exploring possible new sources of income, said Mabizela.
He said the university was eagerly awaiting the advice of the Council of Higher Education regarding fee increases for 2017. Another year of zero fee increases in 2017 will place SA’s higher education system further in a precarious position, unless the state can provide shortfall funding again, said Mabizela.
In March, Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande commissioned the Council of Higher Education to advise him on a regulatory framework concerning fees and to provide options for the 2017 academic year. It is understood that the council will advise the minister that fee increases closely pegged to the consumer price index, which rose 6.1% in May, is the only feasible option.
Department of Higher Education and Training spokesperson Khaye Nkwanyana, said that the department was still engaged in the prescribed and necessary processes to reach an understanding on fees for universities and other institutions for the 2017 academic year.
"These processes, which among others include receiving a thorough and considered report and recommendations from the Council on Higher Education, consultations with vice-chancellors and principals, and discussions with democratically elected student representatives, are currently under way.
"Once these prescribed processes have been completed, an announcement regarding fees for the 2017 academic year will be made," said Nkwanyana.
Sizwe Mabizela. Picture: THE TIMES