/ 20 October 2015

Blade: Student protests not a national crisis

Wits students fill up Senate House.
Wits students fill up Senate House.

On Monday the higher education minister announced an urgent meeting with representatives from universities, student bodies and employees set for Tuesday.

“Yes, it is a challenge, but I wouldn’t call it a crisis because we have ways and means of discussing the matter,” Nzimande said at a media briefing in Pretoria.

So far, Wits University, the University of Cape Town, Rhodes University and Fort Hare University have been affected by the protests, Nzimande said.

“I am tomorrow [Tuesday] convening a meeting with representative delegations of vice-chancellors, university council chairs, students and workers, to discuss and come up with a common framework and approach to the issue of university fee increases for 2016,” he said.

“An approach must be developed in order to come up with a dispensation that takes into account the difficult circumstances facing especially the students who come from poor families, as well as financial pressures facing the system.”

‘Be more sensitive’
Nzimande called on university management to be more sensitive and cautious when deciding on fee increases.

“It is imperative that they consult all relevant stakeholders in order to minimise the detrimental impact on poor students,” he said.

Nzimande also called on students to give negotiations with management a chance.

“Students need to be brought on board for frank and honest discussions so as to ensure that there is stability in our institutions,” the minister said.

“The management of universities must open up legitimate channels for discussion and dialogue over these matters, and not allow matters to deteriorate, often due to lack of understanding and knowledge of the situation and spurred by poor communication.”

The minister pleaded with both students and university management to ensure they find solutions to prevent examinations from being affected, as the country already had an unacceptably high failure rate.

“We really hope that exams aren’t affected. I would like to make a call and a plea that whatever the issues, let’s find a way … to protect the exam system.”

Nzimande responds to criticism
Nzimande defended himself against his detractors who say he responded too late to the problem.

“It’s unfair to then say when there’s misunderstanding or student protests that I’m the first port of call. I’m not the first port of call. Fees are determined independently by institutions themselves,” he said.

“When people say I’ve been absent, I don’t agree with that because we had a summit for three days last week. All these matters were being discussed at macro level.”

Nzimande was referring to the higher education summit on transformation, in which a possible regulatory framework governing fee increases was discussed.

“That is what we are going to explore from now onwards. The summit also agreed we must explore that,” he said.

“A regulatory framework can say if any university is going to increase fees by double the inflation rate or 3 or 4 percent above inflation, it must get concurrence from minister. That is one way of setting up a regulatory framework.” – ANA