UCT VC tells Zuma to release fees commission report amid growing anxiety

 Students confront University of Cape Town's vice-chancellor Max Price at the Cape Town Book Library during the higher education fees commission of inquiry session on September 06, 2016. (Gallo)

Students confront University of Cape Town's vice-chancellor Max Price at the Cape Town Book Library during the higher education fees commission of inquiry session on September 06, 2016. (Gallo)

University of Cape Town (UCT) vice-chancellor Max Price has expressed “grave concern” that President Jacob Zuma has not yet released the fees commission report.

A statement from UCT appealing for the release of the report came late on Monday following the shutdown of the university’s main library by a group of protesters.

The statement is the first direct public message to Zuma from a university that presses for the fees report to be released amid deepening fears that campuses and families are unable to sufficiently prepare their finances for the 2018 academic year.

UCT said it would normally have finished consultations on fees with its student representative council (SRC) in September, but has been unable to do so without the instructions of the fees report.

“However, not wanting to pre-empt the recommendations of the fees commission we have delayed decisions on fees pending the release of the report,” said Price.

Zuma established the Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training (fees commission) in January 2016. The commission was tasked with investigating the feasibility of free education in South Africa. Its report landed on Zuma’s desk on August 31, and had since been shrouded in secrecy.

In the past two months, many universities have been left to wait, sweating out the looming stress as many have resolved they cannot plan their 2018 budget without knowing what the report will say.

In Cape Town, Stellenbosch University has been unable to wait.
It has announced an 8% fee increase for the 2018 year. But its SRC has rejected that increase, saying it will exclude poor black students. 

The University of the Free State (UFS) has already been shutdown by student protesters, but resolving fees disputes may be difficult without the report or any feedback from the government on the next year. By this time last year, the higher education ministry had already told universities about the government’s higher education budget for the next academic year.

The University of Witwatersrand (Wits) is meanwhile trying to plan its own finances,  but told the Mail & Guardian: “[It’s] not meaningful without knowledge of the recommendations of the report”. 

The instability in the higher education ministry may now be exacerbated by Zuma’s surprise Cabinet reshuffle 7 days ago, which saw higher education minister Blade Nzimande axed. Nzimande’s removal came at a time when universities would ordinarily financially prepare for the year ahead as the academic year comes to a close.

In an interview with City Press, the former minister said not even he had seen Zuma’s tightly held fees commission report before he was sacked. He said his removal as higher education minister paved the way for Zuma to credit someone else for the report.

“I thought that it would be obvious that he will call me and say: ‘Here is the report. What are your views on it before I respond?’ The president never gave me the report. I don’t know about it,” he said.

Price’s statement squarely puts the blame on government if university finances should go awry in the coming months or year. Already, he said, UCT is underfunded and its student body and parents will need to know what the next year will hold.

“We will not be able to delay decisions on fees for much longer. We, therefore, appeal to the President to release the report for public scrutiny and debate,” he said. 

Ra'eesa Pather

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