President Jacob Zuma has ordered finance minister Pravin Gordhan and higher education minister Blade Nzimande to implement students’ demands for a zero-percent increase in university fees for 2017 – despite warnings that institutions could collapse without money.
This is according to the City Press, citing government sources which confirmed that Zuma made the order at the ANC’s National Executive Council meeting last week.
According to the paper, Zuma’s order directly overruled instructions coming from Nzimande, which said that universities in South Africa needed at least a 6% hike in fees for 2017, or risk facing financial collapse.
Treasury and the department of higher education were prepared for a student revolt, and had anticipated being able to engage with students over a compromise increase – explaining that it had to be done on the back of 2016’s zero rate.
However, with Zuma’s stance backing them, the students are reportedly emboldened, and will no longer accept anything but 0% for 2017 as well.
Some of South Africa’s top universities have already indicated that they are financially vulnerable, with others having to turn to private investors and alumni donations to meet the shortfall from 2016’s 0% rate.
Treasury has warned that there is no more money to direct towards tertiary education, and that drastic changes had to be made to make 2016’s zero-percent hike possible. To do it again, money would need to be redirected from other departments, such as health, it said.
Zuma reportedly told Gordhan and Nzimande to simply “find the money”.
One of the key strategies that came out of the NEC meeting last week was that the ANC would push government to “re-prioritise” the budget to cater more for the poor.
While there was nothing outright new to that point for the ANC – as it is part of the party’s manifesto to be doing that anyway – analysts saw it as a move by the party to adopt a more populist stance in order to claw back support from voters, having suffered a significant blow in the recent elections.
You can read the full report in the City Press for 21 August 2016