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Onus on govt to make education accessible: Attorney

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The fact that the #FeesMustFall protests are as nationally spread as they are and are gaining significant traction amongst students indicates how financially crippling tertiary education has become, according to Attorney Nurina Ally. Her comments come amid a growing student movement against proposed fee hikes at universities across the country.

Tertiary institutions have effectively been brought to a standstill in recent days, the protests sparked by Wits University’s attempts to implement a 10.5% tuition fee increase. Other top institutions followed suit by announcing similar hikes, much to the displeasure of students.

The resulting protests have threatened to spill over into violence; Wits students have already been accused of attacking vehicles near the entrance to the university, while other campuses have effectively been barricaded shut by students. Police have also alleged taken to using stun grenades to disperse crowds.

Ally, director at the Equal Education Law Centre said that as per Section 29(1) (b) of the South African constitution all citizens were guaranteed the right to access further education. An obligation was further placed on the state to implement reasonable measures that would make that right progressively available and accessible.

“What we’ve seen over the years is that the state has actually reduced subsidies in terms of tertiary education, and there is an argument to be made that this is actually an infringement on the constitution right of students,” she stated.

She further noted that a large number of students were facing economic exclusion, with a majority matriculating without the ability to access further education, limiting their potential in terms of economic freedom in the future.

Ally also stressed that it was a requirement of both universities and The Department of Higher Education to consider in a reasonable and comprehensive way how the proposed fee increments should be implemented.

“There are many issues that need to be address, but the question is whether the primary responsibility is on the state. The state has a duty, specifically in respect to further education and generally it has a duty to further protect and promote the rights (listed) in the Bill of Rights,” she said.

“I don’t think we should shift the responsibility onto other parties, and in that I think universities and government have a responsibility to work together.”

Despite the reports of violent scenes at some universities, Ally commended protesters for largely going about their business in a disciplined and peaceful manner.

While the Department of Higher Education has confirmed that increases will be capped at 6%, students have continued to protest for the 2016 fee hike to be completely scrapped. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)

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