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Universities sitting on ‘financial reserves’: HETN

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Universities are struggling to cope financially due to a lack of student funding coming from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), hence the proposed fee increases, according the director of the Higher Education Transformation Network (HETN), Hendrick Makaneta.

A wave of protests has swept across tertiary institutions throughout the country in recent days. The uproar began last week at Wits University, where students sought to oppose a proposed 10.5% tertiary education price hike. They were soon joined by concerned students at Stellenbosch University, who have expressed concern at an 11.5% increase. The wave has now hit other campuses across the country; classes at both Rhodes University and UCT have been suspended amid massive student protests, with Pretoria University students also indicating their intention to join the action on Wednesday.

From the perspective of the HETN, universities are currently sitting on financial reserves acquired via the state that could be used to fund poorer students.

“At the moment they are refusing to do that, and we are saying that it cannot be correct. We want the Auditor General to get into their books so that they can be able to declare the actual amount of reserves that were accumulated in the past,” explained Makaneta.

Makaneta said there was little accountability on tertiary institutions in this regard, with the notion of ‘institutional autonomy’ making it difficult for government to regulate universities at large. As a signal of this autonomy, the Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande has limited capacity in terms of council appointments at the country’s respective institutions.

“The minister, in terms of the Higher Education Act, can only appoint a maximum of five members. Hence, universities use their institutional autonomy to block transformation. As it stands, government doesn’t have a lot of say,” he claimed.

This lack of government control has also been attributed to the universities abilities to implement fee increases.

The wave of protests has brought about talks of nationalising tertiary institutions with the aim providing free higher education. This could also increase government reach inside the functioning of such institutions. Makaneta said the debate was on-going to try and find ways and means to ease the financial burden on students.

“We proposed that the skills development levy must be increased. Currently it is 1% that is being paid towards that, but we want it to be 2%. The other 1%, we want it to fund higher education,” he added, suggesting government need add to the NSFAS coffers in terms of higher education funding. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)

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