Rhodes supports student fees call

Rhodes University management yesterday said it supported student demands for free quality education for the poor but warned government needed to come up with the money to clear historical debt.

STALEMATE: Rhodes University students gathering at the Kaif waiting to be addressed by management Picture: DAVID MACGREGOR
STALEMATE: Rhodes University students gathering at the Kaif waiting to be addressed by management Picture: DAVID MACGREGOR

Responding to a list of demands from University Currently Known As Rhodes (Uckar) fees protesters, management said in a statement read to more than 500 students that the institution was in “a fragile financial state” and had no money left to try to deal with the problem.

Management said the university was unable to clear outstanding fees of R147-million and historical debt of R226-million without government assistance.

The university remained closed yesterday after protesting students gave management until the afternoon to respond to their demands or face a prolonged shutdown.

Staff were ordered not to work by small groups of students who moved around campus.

Responding to demands, vice chancellor Sizwe Mabizela strongly urged government to provide a platform of engagement for universities to try and resolve the crisis.

“Government must provide feasible solutions to meet the financial needs of universities and students from underprivileged circumstances.”

Mabizela added it was in no one’s interest to close the university.

“We commit ourselves to working with all sectors to ensure that no student’s academic year is lost, and no employee’s job and salary is lost.”

Mabizela on Sunday had warned the university could close and send its students home if ongoing fee protests hampered the resumption of normal activities this week.

Students however said they were prepared to shut down the university until the issue was properly resolved, even if it meant losing the academic year.

Rhodes said in the response statement it was working with other universities to lobby government and the private sector to come up with resources to provide free, quality education for the poor.

Management however said they were unable to legally instruct senior staff to pay up to half their salaries to subsidise poor students nor could it instruct staff who rented houses to students to give a percentage of profit either.

Management however did agree to waive supplementary examination fees, but said withholding exam results was a mechanism to divide those who could pay from those who could not and said they would engage with students over this on an individual basis.

Late yesterday afternoon protest leaders and others were locked in talks over the issue. No statement on student responses to management replies to their demands was available at the time of writing.

University campuses across the country were last week brought to a standstill by fees protests.

The protests followed an announcement made by Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande that if a student’s family income was R600000 or less, they would have no fee increase in 2017 as the state would cover the increase. Nzimande said the fee increases for everyone else would be capped at 8%. — davidm@dispatch.co.za

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