/ 30 October 2017

Fears of heightened student protests after leaked fees commission report

Students sit in protest during a mass demonstration on the steps of Jameson Hall at the University of Cape Town on October 22 2015.
Students sit in protest during a mass demonstration on the steps of Jameson Hall at the University of Cape Town on October 22 2015.

Universities South Africa (USAf) expressed concern at the leaked report into the commission of inquiry into higher education and training.

President Jacob Zuma commissioned the report in January 2016 following widespread student protests that rocked South Africa. The commission was headed by retired judge Jonathan Heher.

USAf said in Sunday in a statement that report indicates an “irresponsibility and a deep lack of understanding of the conditions” on campuses.

“Not only has it been leaked to the public through a City Press report, but it has not been accompanied by the government’s response to the recommendations, and a statement on the process to be followed now that the report is in the public domain.

“This failure then inflames a highly tense political environment and could expand the protests at universities thereby compromising the final year examinations currently underway in most institutions,” read a statement issued on Sunday.

City Press newspaper reported on Sunday that the 748-page report proposes an overhaul of the funding system, and concludes that South Africa cannot afford universal fee higher education.

USAf, which is a representative association of all 26 public universities, said although they welcome the release of the report, they took issue with the fact that the Presidency had not met with them as well as various Student Representative Councils (SRCs), despite requesting an opportunity to engage with them before the release of the report.

“For now, we have to think of this Report as an important document that begins a significant national process of engagement, discussion and debate around one of the most important socio-economic issues raised in the last ten years, that of fee-free higher education.”

The association said that they hoped that exams would take place across all 26 universities in South Africa without issue as any negative effects would be most dire for those from financially disadvantaged backgrounds.

They looked to the president for a way forward with regards to a smooth exam process.

“At the very least, we would hope that the Presidency immediately releases a clearly delineated process document that lays out exactly what steps will be followed as we head towards the end of this academic year and the start of the next,” read the statement.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) urged Zuma to immediately release the report.

“The President’s… dilly-dallying over the release of the report, and his reported refusal to share it with the previous Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande for what seem to be petty and vindictive reasons, have predictably resulted in a leak,” said DA MP Belinda Bozzoli in a statement on Sunday.

Student protests have erupted on some campuses, with students calling for the president to release the report.

The Presidency on Saturday said that Zuma was studying the report, and that he would make it public in due course.

Zuma received the report at the end of August – News24