The commission into the potential of free higher education and training kicked off in Tshwane, but the dissatisfied South African Union of Students (SAUS) has promised to shut down universities, because the say students have been excluded from the commission’s work.
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Avela Mjajubana, the president of SAUS, told the commission that it has so far been a disappointment to students. The commission’s chairperson, retired judge Jonathan Heher, said the commission did not have the power to advise or prevent the government from implementing a fee increment. Heher was appointed to lead the commission seven months ago by President Jacob Zuma.
“We are actually disappointed with the work of the commission. We are going to call a national executive committee meeting and if possible we are going to shut down all institutions until free education is realised,” Mjajubana said.
In July, the Mail & Guardian heard that in 2017 the Council on Higher Education could increase university fees by at least 6.3%. Fee increases were frozen in 2016 following widespread student protests and university shutdowns across the country in October 2015.
But Fasiha Hassen, the deputy secretary of SAUS, told the commission that government and the private sector must pull their weight when it comes to fees. University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) vice-chancellor Adam Habib also joined the proceedings, but said the definition of fees must be expanded.
Habib commented that for students, fees not only referred to the cost of tuition but also the prices of transport, computers and other necessities that would make higher education accessible to students. The Wits vice-chancellor also said students should not limit their options to universities.
“We must create more options. Students mustn’t think that universities are the only way to have a future,” Habib said.
But Majujubana believes students who want higher education can access universities with free education. The SAUS president said that a “wealth tax” should be implemented and the salaries of vice-chancellors, mayors, parliamentarians and ministers should also be cut to make more funding available for students.
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“We will be engaging with all students, we will be engaging with political student organisations, even with The Congress of South African Students from the basic education level. They must be able to take part in the struggle for free education,” he said.
The commission will continue to hear submissions for the rest of today and tomorrow, before it moves on to other provinces.