South African universities are facing challenging times which are compounded by the deteriorating economic climate.
That the sector is in the middle of a campaign for low or no fee has not helped.
The nation-wide student campaign is essentially a manifestation of what is widely seen as an incomplete socio-economic democratic project of realising a more equal and just society that is the promise of the South African Constitution.
However, it has now become urgent, thrust onto the national stage through the self-organization and agency of students as they challenged uneven access to higher education due to unaffordable fees.
Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) prides itself on its positioning as a dynamic African university that offers a diverse range of quality educational opportunities, and has always been committed to heeding the call for transformation.
South African universities, including NMMU, carry increased costs annually due to, among other things, increasing student numbers in the continued bid to widen access for students across all economic spheres. All this while government grants continued on the decline.
It is therefore becoming increasingly difficult for the University to continue to effectively operate on the current fee structure, which has remained the same for two consecutive years.
Taking stock of the 2016 year, the knock-on financial effect of decisions taken at the start of the student fee protests in 2015 – which included debt relief and financial support for poor and missing middle students – have hit University coffers quite hard.
Our core business of teaching, learning and research require adequate resources to maintain and grow without compromising quality. This, among other things, entails ensuring that the university’s infrastructure and facilities are maintained and expanded.
Necessarily, the university needs to attract and retain good staff. In addition, the university needs to maintain and expand its infrastructure to accommodate the growing number of students currently sitting at 27000.
Additionally, the University has also incurred the considerable costs of reintegrating support functions and services staff. To date the University has insourced just under 400 workers in catering and protection services department to the tune of R34.5-million. The process of reintegrating cleaning and horticulture staff is continuing.
The University has also incurred excess costs to the tune of nearly R14-million as a direct result of the 2016 #FeesMustFall protests, with more than R1-million spent on additional security and R6.7-million towards restoring damaged property.
NMMU is particularly mindful that the bulk of our students come from lower income families, which is why we endeavour to assist academically deserving, economically challenged students as best we can.
This year, the University out of own volition assisted those who qualified for 2015 debt relief – academically deserving and financially needy students – giving these students the opportunity to return to the University to continue their studies.
The loan funding included 1531 students to an amount of R21-million. It also offered assistance with down payment relief for students from the missing middle, bringing the total number of students assisted to 5043. This resulted in a R30-million negative cash flow at the end of February.
NMMU assisted zero Expected Family Contribution (EFC) students with a contribution towards books, food and accommodation, amounting to R25.4-million. To date, the accumulated 2016 fees debt for NMMU is R 152-million.
The 2017 operational budget is in a deficit position (R68-million) before utilising majority of investment income to break-even. The impact of a 0% increase for all students at NMMU is that it will result in a negative impact of R 50-million on the above mentioned budget with a significant cumulative effect rolling forward. It would therefore be irresponsible of the University not to take advantage of the government’s proposal to raise fees by not more than 8%, since this will ensure the continued provision of quality higher education as well as the sustainability of the university.
For these reasons the University Council resolved today (9 December 2016) to effect a fee increase of 8% for the 2017 academic year – which is the maximum increase as per government directive. A consideration of the university’s key cost drivers as well as the objective to remain sustainable leaves the university with no alternative.
It should be noted that the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr. Blade Nzimande, announced that the Public Universities in South Africa may adjust their tuition fees for the 2017 academic year. He advised the universities to cap the increase in tuition fees at 8%.
The Minister further stated that the South African government would subsidise the fee increase for all students whose combined family income and/or that of any legal guardian are less than R600 000.
Therein, he identified interim measures to address the plight of poor and needy students by:
- Fully covering fees for students that qualify under the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS);
- Subsidising the so-called “missing middle” – those whose combined family income is up to R600 000 – for the fee increase up to a maximum of 8%.
The University is aware that this increase places more pressure on many parents and sponsors during a difficult economic period in the country. However, NMMU believes that it is not only imperative but necessary to do.