‘Wits is still an ivory tower’

As student anger erupted at Wits University this week over fee increases, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande refused to be drawn on whether he will pump up subsidies to universities.

He also declined to comment on the Mail & Guardian‘s enquiry about how he expects universities to function in the face of increasing operational costs without increasing their fees.

Nzimande has previously warned universities not to exclude students for financial reasons and exhorted them to admit more historically disadvantaged students. A higher education department official told the M&G it was too early to comment.

Wits defended its decision to raise 2010 tuition fees by between 8% and 15%, and residence fees by 11,68%. While the university is ‘acutely aware of the financial difficulties that face students, their parents or benefactors during these troubled times”, said deputy vice-chancellor Patrick Fitzgerald, increases were ‘necessary each year due to the rising costs of a number of essential components”.

Staff salaries comprise approximately 60% of the budget, he said, and the 40% Eskom hike is another worrying factor. The decline in interest rates has shrunk income from investments by about R60-million this year, he added.

Angry students meanwhile complained that the university had deactivated their student cards, denying them access to library facilities, because they had not paid fees. They also said the university was planning to exclude 2 000 students this year for non-payment of fees.

South African Students Congress president Mawethu Rune said negotiations with Wits management had achieved very little. ‘Wits is still an ivory tower and a paradise of a few elites and it will remain so for as long as the management is pursuing neoliberal policies of commercialising education,” he said.

  • On Thursday, Wits management announced that protests had been suspended following its court interdict against some protesters and its discussions with students. The proposed fee increases remain unchanged but students will address the Wits council about them. Management ‘will endeavour to reduce” the proposed residence increase and will ‘unblock” the student cards it had deactivated.

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    Thabo Mohlala
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