The Next Tuition Battle in South Africa

Institutions say they need the revenue, but protests are likely if any increases go forward.

August 18, 2016

South Africa’s university campuses look set for another round of unrest as students oppose a possible increase in tuition.

Fees at the country’s higher education institutions were frozen last year after nationwide protests against increases proposed by vice chancellors, but universities have warned that they will face serious financial difficulties if a rise is not permitted for the new academic year.

The country’s Fees Commission, which is holding hearings into the matter, was told that five universities operated at a loss in 2014 and that this number would grow if fees were not increased.

In its presentation, the University of Pretoria said that it would see a loss of 100 million rand ($7.6 million) if tuition rates for next year were not increased by more than 8 percent.

Expectations of a fee increase were heightened by evidence given to the commission by the South African Treasury, which showed that officials had not budgeted for a tuition fee freeze in 2017.

The higher education minister, Blade Nzimande, asked the country’s statutory agency for universities, the Council on Higher Education, to investigate future fee regulation and was told that the “most defensible” option was an “across the board” increase in line with inflation.

The South African Union of Students, which has been campaigning for free tuition, has threatened a major round of demonstrations in protest with the aim of shutting down universities.

Nzimande has called for calm. He was due to make an announcement on fees on last week but postponed it in light of the council’s report.

“Given the competing views on fee adjustments, it is indeed imperative that we get as broad a consensus as possible regarding 2017 fees,” The Citizen quoted the minister as saying.

The Fees Commission heard that tuition fees made up almost half of total income at institutions including the University of Johannesburg and Rhodes University.

Meanwhile, fees accounted for nearly a third of revenue at some of the country’s most prestigious research institutions, including the Universities of Witwatersrand, Pretoria and Cape Town.

Back to Top