​UKZN students on edge as varsities wait with bated breath for Blade’s big fee reveal

Following two weeks of protest action, University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) students have made an extraordinary demand – they want the president of the student representative council (SRC) to have a seat on the institution’s executive management committee.

In a document outlining a list of demands from students, the university said student leaders must develop a proposal to submit to the council, which will meet on September 19.

The university has been disrupted by protest action for more than two weeks following the students’ demands. On Monday night, a coffee shop on the Howard campus in Durban was burned down, allegedly by protesting students.

Some of the other demands by UKZN students are:

  • All racist individuals must be removed from the university;
  • The university must investigate racism at various colleges;
  • All colleges must conduct some of their tutorials in isiZulu; and
  • Cafeterias must offer food at “reasonable prices”.

UKZN spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka said the SRC president and secretary general already sit on the university’s council, its highest decision-making body.

“They [the council] are the employer. If they [SRC representatives] sit on the executive management team, it will be conflicted.”

Seshoka confirmed that the SRC had been invited to table its demands before the next council meeting.

As the clamour for another 0% tuition fee hike gathers momentum, universities are waiting with bated breath for Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande’s September 15 announcement on next year’s fees.

Last October, fierce student protests forced the government to announce that there would be no fee increase in 2016.

It is widely believed that there will be another freeze on university fee hikes for 2017 following a recent resolution by the ANC’s national executive committee to this effect.

Nzimande met with vice-chancellors and council chairs on Tuesday to report on his meetings with faith-based organisations as well as with the South African National Civic Organisation.

At a previous meeting with Nzimande, vice-chancellors indicated that an increase of less than 8% in annual income “is likely to compromise the financial health” of at least 17 universities as early as next year.

Chief executive of Universities South Africa Ahmed Bawa said it was common cause that universities needed 8% more income next year. The organisation represents the country’s 26 universities.

“At the meeting there was also general consensus that we should try to avoid a massive confrontation again,” he said.

Professor Yunus Ballim, vice-chancellor of Sol Plaatje University in the Northern Cape, said the institution was “deeply concerned” that an announcement on next year’s fees had not yet been made.

“We haven’t been able to set fees for next year. Normally it happens before June. Our residences have been running into disrepair because we have not been allowed to increase fees in residences,” he said.

The vice-chancellor of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Prins Nevhutalu, told students in a recent email to “remain calm” while waiting for Nzimande’s announcement.

“Please be careful not to be unduly influenced by people who may not have the best interests of our university at heart. We are also committed to work tirelessly to find practical solutions to financially assist those students who are referred to as the ‘missing middle’.”

Nevhutalu said the finances of the university was under “huge pressure”, adding: “We are working very hard to effect savings and look at alternative third stream income opportunities in all areas, in order to balance the budget for next year.”

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