Student demands are legitimate, says Parly committee

Thursday, February 14, 2019

 While condemning the destruction of property and violence in the country’s tertiary education sector, Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training says the wide-ranging student demands are legitimate.

Most universities have suspended activities due to a shutdown by students who are demanding free education, the scrapping of historic debt as well as decent living spaces.

“The demands are not insurmountable and it appears everyone is on the same page. There is also general acceptance that resolving all these issues cannot be immediate and may require the students to make some compromises,” committee chairperson Connie September said on Wednesday.

The shutdown has seen some universities in KwaZulu-Natal suspending classes last week, while students went on a hunger strike at Wits University in Gauteng. A student was shot dead at the Durban University of Technology during a protest.

The Tshwane University of Technology opted to shut down all its campuses on Wednesday after students barricaded entrances with burning tyres and rocks.

A protest at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in the Western Cape saw the stoning of the main building and the torching of shuttle buses.

The committee on Wednesday said representatives from the South African Union of Students (Sasu), Universities SA and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) Administrator, Dr Randall Carolissen, were in Parliament to brief the committee on the current situation at universities.

Both Universities SA and Sasu pointed to historic student debt, accommodation, academic exclusions and increases in higher education costs as problems that are common to all tertiary institutions.

Universities SA allayed the committee’s fears on academic exclusions by saying that no academically deserving students are turned away if they do not have registration fees.

The committee felt that some of the challenges could be addressed through the fee-free policy regime, while it also committed to conduct oversight visits to hear first-hand instances of academically deserving students being turned away. The committee will also write to the chairs of university councils.

September said the committee is concerned that councils are not meeting to discuss these issues.

Regarding accommodation, the committee believes that the private sector should play a meaningful role to complement what government is doing to provide funding.

September reminded the meeting that the National Development Plan calls for consensus seeking in education and she called on all stakeholders, led by Minister Naledi Pandor, to facilitate this. –