Universities in South Africa are funded by i) a subsidy received from government ii) tuition fees charged to students and iii) any income they receive from donors or as a result of providing a service, usually in the form of research. Given the way funding for higher education currently operates, tuition and residence fees must be charged to students if universities are to continue to be able to operate as the subsidy income and the income from donors and the provision of services combined are simply not sufficient.
At the end of the 2015 academic year, Rhodes University made considerable concessions with regard to the payment of tuition and residence fees. Formerly, a 50% Minimum Initial Payment (MIP) had been required to allow students to register. In 2016, this was replaced by a 10% Registration Fee. The Vice-Chancellor also gave his personal guarantee that no student in academic good standing (i.e., an undergraduate student who has passed all his/her courses and is proceeding to the next level of undergraduate academic study) would be excluded from Rhodes University for financial reasons. All NSFAS students were allowed to register regardless of whether or not a contribution from their own families was required.
In early 2016, a Fees Committee worked with students who could not afford to pay the 10% Registration Fee in order to develop payment plans. This Committee honoured the Vice-Chancellor’s word that no student in academic good standing would be excluded.
We are now at the end of the first semester of the 2016 year and more than 50% of fees are still outstanding on the accounts of many students. As indicated above, the University cannot afford to operate without tuition and residence fees. Quite simply, if tuition and residence fees are not paid, and are not paid on time, bills and salaries cannot be paid. There are no reserves to tide the institution over the non-payment of fees.
At a financial sustainability workshop involving Deans and Senior Leadership held over two days in the week beginning 27 June 2016, a decision was taken to withhold the examination results of all students who still owed more than 50% of the fees due at the time the results are released. This decision was not taken lightly.
Students owing more than 50% of the fees are likely to be students who i) have paid the 10% registration fee and little, or nothing, more or ii) students who negotiated a payment plan with the Fees Committee at the beginning of the year and who then have failed to meet the commitments of that plan. No students on NSFAS will be affected by the decision to withhold results.
We trust that the student body, and other stakeholders, will appreciate the financial constraints faced by the University. Government subsidy for higher education alone is not sufficient to allow universities to offer a quality higher education, particularly the kind of education offered by Rhodes University.
Any students whose results have been withheld should contact the Fees Office to discuss a way forward with the payment of fees.