Fees Commission brings public hearings on free education to East London

AUGUST 30, 2016

While Democratic Alliance (DA) Shadow Minister of Higher Education and Training, Professor Belinda Bozzoli, on Monday expressed little faith in its work, the Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training (Fees Commission) is expected to host public hearings into the feasibility of a fee-free higher education on Thursday and Friday at the Buffalo City Hall, in East London.

"This public hearing will focus mainly on the overview of the relevant issues and it forms part of the series of hearings that will be held across the country with various identified stakeholders," according to government.

"Stakeholders, who will make presentations include universities, student organisations and trade union organisations amongst others."

There are high epxectations about the hearings, which come a week after the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) witnessed a #FeesMustFall inspired shutdown in Port Elizabeth.

Students aligned with the South African Students Congress (SASCO) blocked entrances to the university in response to a call by the SASCO Eastern Cape leadership that all campuses in the province be shutdown in protest over a possible fee increase for the 2017 academic year.

As the impasse continued, the NMMU also said that it had been made aware of a voice note that is doing rounds threatening students, who might want to access its campuses.

Dr Sibongile Muthwa, who is the  Acting Vice Chancellor, while NMMU Vice-Chancellor Professor Derrick Swartz jets off to Peru on a fundraising camapign, said that the NMMU supports calls for free education for poor and academically deserving students.

"The University is scheduled to present its submission to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training at its sitting in East London on 1 and 2 September. 

"Some of our key recommendations to the Commission include: assisting the 'missing middle', who consist of students who are not poor enough to qualify for NSFAS, but who cannot finance their own tuition; improving the recovery of NSFAS loans to ensure that the funds grow adequately to fund academically deserving, financially needy students; and significantly enhancing efficiencies in the higher education system by improving student success and throughput rates," she said.  

"It must be noted that the Commission is expected to submit its report to the President by March 2017 and the outcome of its findings will only take effect from 2018 onwards."

Meanwhile, the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande, told Parliament that the Council of Higher Education (CHE) had indicated that if the 0% fee increases continued, about 19 universities will become dysfunctional in 2018, and that if increases were to be based on CPI, about 10 universities will be rendered dysfunctional.

Nzimande is expected to announce soon by how much the fees for the 2017 academic year will be increased. 

The Fees Commission was established in January 2016 to inquire into, report on and make recommendations on the feasibility of a fee free higher education and training in South Africa.

It is expected to submit a preliminary report to the President in November 2016 and a full report in June 2017.