Talk of extending protest into city as #FeesMustFall shuts down NMMU

SEPTEMBER 20, 2016

There were scenes of chaos at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in Port Elizabeth as students shutdown the university in solidarity with students across South Africa, who have shutdown several campuses, in protest to Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Blade Nzimande's, fees increase recommendation on Monday.

Early on, students occupied the university's Embizweni Building and vowed to fight on until their calls for free education or a 0% fee hike in 2017 are heard.

At NMMU, the students also demanded that the university feeds them during the shutdown and that NMMU management join them in calling for free tertiary education. 

The students claimed that their fight is not with the institution but with the state that have failed to provide free education. They also vowed to bring business in the Nelson Mandela Bay to a standstill if their demands are not met. 

NMMU Acting Vice Chancellor Dr. Sibongile  Muthwa later addressed the protesters and said that the institution is unable to cover the fees for the so-called 'missing middle' students. 

In August, she represented the NMMU at the Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training (the Fees Commission) in East London, and highlighted a need for a national university funding review, adequate financial support for the so-called “missing middle” and improved management of student loans to help the national financial aid scheme meet the funding needs of poorer, academically deserving students.

In the morning, the NMMU announced that all its campuses will be closed on Tuesday.

"All staff and students at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) are advised to stay off all campuses, including George and Missionvale, today due to student protests in line with a national call to shut down all universities," the university warned.

"Essential services will continue, but all academic activities have been suspended for today. Essential services includes security, catering, cleaning, health-related services and key technical staff.

"Those staff and students who can work remotely are asked to do so."

The NMMU said that it will keep students informed of unfolding events, and more especially of arrangements for Wednesday.

"The University management is meeting this morning to consider the implications of the ministerial statement on fees and will continue to engage with students in this regard."

The NMMU on Monday said that it welcomes Nzimande’s announcement, which essentially gives universities direction in dealing with the university fee issue going forward.

Meanwhile, the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training, Connie September, has welcomed the waiver on fee increases for poor students and the category of students described as “the missing middle”.

“Of particular interest to the Committee is how the missing middle has been accommodated in the fee structure. Now more students are exempted from fee increases. We share the sentiment that students who can afford to pay should do so, because government cannot subsidise everyone,” September said.

“It is worth noting that further to what the Minister announced, the Presidential Fees Commission is still in progress. Students are encouraged to make submissions, as recommendations from that process will have a long-lasting impact on the funding models for the sector,” she said.

“We require stabilisation in higher education and training. It is commendable that the Minister had announced a position that assists everyone, including those students attending Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges. Now students can now focus on their studies and on building decent futures for themselves.”

The Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Blade Nzimande, on Monday announced that although fee increments for 2017 would be decided by individual universities, it was preferable that increases be capped below 8%.

September said it was important that universities be considerate when deciding fee increments for 2017 and that commitment be demonstrated towards poor students, so that they do not face uncertainty and hardship. She called on university management, students and other stakeholders to continue with engagements.

The Committee is on a week-long visit to Gauteng and will visit various training colleges and centres during the week.