President Jacob Zuma has called on students to continue to study while work is being done to find solutions on the fees crisis in the higher education sector.
The president was speaking at a multi-stakeholder forum on universities in Kempton Park on Monday, which has come in the wake of mass protests by students demanding free tertiary education.
The demonstrations have caused hundreds of millions of rand in damage to campus property, and also became violent, forcing the closure of many institutions.
“We do not agree with those who say that universities should be shut down while these solutions are being sought by government and stakeholders.
“We do not agree with those who say the future of our youth and the future of our country must be put on hold. We also do not agree that university infrastructure must be destroyed to send a message to government that education is too expensive in the country,” Zuma said on Monday.
The president called the destruction of university property ‘shocking criminal acts’. “The problems of education funding can never justify the violence and destruction, including the loss of human life and injury,” he said.
“We have directed police to arrest those who are using the genuine grievances of students to commit serious crimes on campuses.”
“We are not just gambling with the futures of the current generation of students, we are compromising the future of coming generations, and indeed the country,” Zuma said.
Zuma said that the estimated costs of damage to university property as a result of the student protests amounted to R600 million. “These are funds that could have been directed to address funding challenges. The money must now be directed to repair infrastructure.”
Zuma said that the government is doing everything possible to assist students from poor households to obtain post-school education since 1994. “We are however aware that more still needs to be done as many more students still need assistance.”
Government has committed to pay the fee increases for next year on behalf of all poor, working class and “missing middle” families – those with a household income of up to R600,000 per annum.
While universities are the only legal authorities for determining fees, government has also recommended that fee adjustments for the 2017 academic year should not be above 8%.
“The zero percent fee increase that was implemented for this year was a decision made through listening, and through talking,” the president said.
He stressed that the commission on education fees should be allowed to finish its work so that it can help to find lasting solutions. The fees commission for higher education is expected to conclude its work in 2017.