#FeesMustFall: NMMU says it supports free education for deserving students

AUGUST 24, 2016

In light of the current stand-off at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), which saw the institution suspending academic business for the second day after protests over a possible fee increase for 2017, the university on Wednesday said that it supports the calls for free education for poor and academically deserving students.

"The Minister of Higher Education and Training is expected to make a pronouncement in the next week in respect of tuition fee increases for 2017. The University will work with students and staff to co-create an implementation plan for next year once there is further clarity in this regard," said DR Sibongile Muthwa, who is the  Acting Vice Chancellor, while NMMU Vice-Chancellor Professor Derrick Swartz jets off to Peru on a fundraising camapign, in a statement.

"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.  

"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."

Dr Muthwa said that the call for a no-fee increase, and more recently free higher education, is an issue of national significance which all institutions of higher learning, government and the private sector are currently grappling with.

"Universities South Africa (USAf) has been continually engaging with the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Blade Nzimande, on this and other matters affecting the sector.

"In November 2015, the NMMU Council took a decision, to both reintegrate previously outsourced services and introduce debt relief and down-payment interventions for financially needy and academically deserving students. It is hoped that the national pronouncement will include concessions to accommodate the plight of the 'missing middle'. NMMU is participating in a national process to define the criteria for identifying and assisting the 'missing middle'," she said.

"The University wishes to reaffirm its commitment to widening access to higher education, while recognising that the progressive financial assistance measures it has implemented in this regard will not be sustainable into perpetuity without the intervention of national government and other sectors of society.

"Following engagement with students on the issues highlighted above, we expect that normalcy will resume tomorrow [Thursday] for all University operations and we are encouraging everyone to assist Management in ensuring that this is possible."

On Wednesday, 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.