by Fiona Forde
IN A move that could reignite #FeesMustFall protests, university fees could rise as much as 6% in 2017 following a 2016 moratorium that has set institutions and the state back billions of rand.
However, #FeesMustFall campaigners say they will dig in their heels and fight any proposed increases again, if need be.
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 pencil in options for the 2017 academic year.
Business Day understands the council will tell Nzimande, in research that will be given to the department later in July, that an increase closely pegged to the consumer price index (CPI), which rose 6.1% in May, is the only feasible option. It also recommends that this hike be applied to all students nationwide, regardless of their financial standing.
According to the council, about 25% of the nationwide population of students are ranked as "very poor" and are drawn from households with a combined annual income of less than R122,000. They are catered for by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, though demand for grants and loans has exceeded its supply of funds in recent years.
In addition to these students, there is a growing body of students dubbed "the missing middle", whose families earn in excess of the scheme’s cut-off amount but who still cannot afford university fees and maintenance, which typically run into tens of thousands of rand.
However, the council is adamant that any increase of less than CPI is not financially viable, while no increase is completely off the table. "Many of our universities will be forced into a very precarious situation if next year’s fee increase falls short of recommendations," said one of the authors of the research.
Though the minister cannot impose fees on institutions, he has taken additional advice on the matter and has consulted his Cabinet peers on how best to deal with university costs, according to his office on Tuesday.
"The minister has always said that anything above inflation is indefensible, especially in these tough economic times," said Khaye Nkwanyana, who speaks on behalf of Nzimande. "But the Treasury has already hinted that there is no money" to bail out universities in the event that students call for a second year of no increases.
Nkwanyana was unable to say when the Cabinet would discuss the matter.
Blade Nzimande. Picture: GCIS