#FeesMustFall anxiety as SAUS calls for student meetings on possible varsity shutdowns

AUGUST 15, 2016

The South African Union of Students (SAUS), which claims to be the largest non-partisan federation of Student Represantative Councils (SRCs) from across the country, on Sunday said that it is "disgusted" by the lack of political will and a deliberate delay in the realisation of free education. It will now be calling for mass meetings of students on university campuses to deliberate on a possible countrywide shutdown of universities.

"In 2015, students took to the streets in the ?#‎FeesMustFall? protests to highlight the lack of access to education and to call for free and quality education. The state responded with a moratorium on fee increments for 2016 and created a commission for free education that was due to report back at the end of 2016," said the movement in a statement.

"We are disgusted by the fact that their report back has now been delayed until May 2017. This is evident of the lack of political will and a deliberate will delay the realization of free education. The need for free and quality education is an urgent one."

It argues that thousands of students will again be excluded from accessing higher education if fees are increased for the 2017 academic year.

"We reject the fact that the commission is investigating the feasibility of free education instead investigating the modalities of how to realize free and quality education.

"In the current climate: a very young population, high unemployment rates, a plateaued economic growth and a growing skills gap, we cannot view access to education as a privilege. The question should not be whether South Africa can afford free education but can we afford NOT to have free and quality education," SAUS said.

"We also reject the creation of two separate task teams or commissions: one for free education and one to investigate the possibility of a 2017 fee increment. This is a clear waste of tax payers’ money as well as time. The work of the commission on free education must inform the way forward for 2017."

Note that no official announcement on a fee increment has been made, SAUS said that it is however aware of the possibility that the state is considering a 6-8% increase in university fees for the year 2017.

"The Council of Higher Education (CHE) has indicated that Universities require approximately 8% income to function. As the Union we advance the view that it cannot be students who bear the brunt of the increase. It must be the State and the Private sector who carry this cost.

"In 2016, when the President of the Republic announced the moratorium on fee increments, it was that the State and Universities themselves that covered the costs of the increments – not the student body. In the same light, students must not bear the financial burden of a 2017 increment," SAUS said.

"This is also because the commission on free education was set to report back at the end of 2016 and thus provide a way forward for 2017. The delay in their work severely undermines and negatively affects our students. And we are now paying the price for it.

"As the Union, our stance is very clear: there can be no increment in any student fees until the realization of free and quality education. The zero percent last year was a symbolic commitment to the realization of free and quality education which is our ultimate goal."

SAUS said they were "unafraid of the use of security forces as well as the use of court interdicts".

The movement is expected on Monday to kick-off a process of mass consultations and mass meetings.

"A mandate must be given from our student constituencies. Each institution has its own dynamic and situation on the ground. As such our SRCs will be calling mass meetings and various stakeholder meetings over the next few days. It is important that we consolidate a national list of demands that come directly from our students," SAUS said.

"We will continue to engage Universities, Department of Higher Education and Training, National Treasury, and the private sector to ensure that our students’ best interests are forwarded.

"We also reject with contempt those who are attempting to divide the student movement by alleging that SAUS has been in any meetings on Sunday with the State. We have and always will receive our mandate from SRCs in particular and the student population in general."

Image: YouTube screengrab