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#Feesmustfall time bomb ticking

Jul 20 2016 14:08
Matthew le Cordeur

Cape Town – Wits University wants President Jacob Zuma’s commission into #feesmustfall to be fast-tracked to ensure violent protests do not erupt again this year.

Professor Tawana Kupe, deputy vice-chancellor at Wits, said the presidential Fees Commission should not follow the same drawn out path like the Marikana commission.

“We need to know if next year we are going to have fees and how much,” he told Fin24 on the sidelines of the Institute of Risk Management South Africa’s Risk Laboratory conference in Cape Town.

“The question needs to be settled now, because if we don’t the students will continue protesting and universities will remain in limbo,” he said.

He told the conference that the presidential commission will take a while to put forward its recommendations. “This delay mechanism is a time bomb,” he said.

“Students say they will not accept an increase beyond 0%, but universities are not sustainable without at least an 8% increase.

“It will likely cause unrest in the latter part of 2016 and early 2017,” he said. “We need an interim solution until the commission reports and government makes decisions.”

READ: Student fees: facts, figures and observations

This uncertainty has downstream effects, where universities and donors have to make financial and strategic decisions.

“Universities are for life,” Kupe told Fin24. “Quicker decision making will introduce certainty into the system, quieten down the students and we can focus on the business of producing skills and knowledge needed in the economy.”

Kupe warned that some universities are a few months away from bankruptcy due to the 0% fee increase in 2016. However, he explained that the no-fee structure was a global phenomenon that was already a reality in Europe, Australia, Canada, Chile, China the UK and the US.

The Fees Commission is facing resistance from many #feestmustfall leaders across the country, who have not contributed to the process.

However, Kupe said Wits students – including the #feesmustfall activists – had contributed to their internal commission into the situation and were committed to finding solutions to the funding dilemma.

“What they want is to get an education and to make a contribution to society,” he said.

PODCAST: Interview with Professor Tawana Kupe by Fin24's Matthew le Cordeur

Government, alumni and private sector must unite

Kupe wants government, alumni and the private sector to come together to find innovative funding models to assist students get the education they need.

He suggested companies should allocate a percentage of their profits to a unique or collective skills fund for students.

“Of course, we are conscious of the fact that they have to contribute depending on their capacity and also how the economy is actually doing,” he said. South Africa’s 2016 gross domestic product is stalling at just over 0%, making this an issue.

“Adopting students and adopting learners and encouraging them to join their industries when they finish would be invaluable,” Kupe said.

Looking at why the #feesmustfall campaign had erupted, Kupe pointed to student debt.

He said student fees would have doubled between 2008 and 2016 had the increases of between 8% and 11% gone through. “Subsidies are not growing at the pace of inflation,” he warned.

“Education should not be a debt sentence,” he said, adding that the issue was more of a crisis in the US. “US college debt is $1.2trn which is more than credit card debt. Students are living at home and not getting housing as a result.”

If the fees crisis is not solved soon, he warned of multiple risks unfolding.

There will be a lack of human capital development and an undermining of economic growth and development, which will cause South Africa to lag behind in growth.

There will also be a lack of social mobility, universities help move people out of lower class into middle class.

“Without this, you entrench unemployment and poverty,” he said. “This causes deepening and widening inequality.

“This creates fertile ground for social unrest and violence,” he said. “#Feesmustfall revealed this violence as property was destroyed, including buildings, art and buses.”

READ: Matthew Lester: University out of reach. Current fee model unsustainable

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wits university  |  jacob zuma  |  #feesmustfall
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