Rhodes university would close within three months if students did not pay their fees, warned VC Sizwe Mabizela.
“We are heavily reliant on student fees and any attempt by the students not to pay will completely cripple this university.”
If government had not paid in full the R42-million shortfall created by freezing fee increases last year, Rhodes would have been in deep trouble.
“We are a well-run university but we simply have no reserves to speak about,” said the VC frankly during an interview. “We try to run this tight ship as efficiently as we can.”
He said the impression that it was a “rich” university was wrong and any reserve it had was from outside agencies and strictly encumbered or ring-fenced, usually for bursaries or research. “We can’t touch that money for anything else.”
But Mabizela was confident students would not boycott fee payments this year.
Registration at several universities across the country has been disrupted by resumed #feesmustfall protests.
Mabizela, an avid supporter of ensuring that no academically deserving student is denied a higher education, said most issues raised by students last year had been settled. “We look forward to a peaceful and productive academic year.”
He said the #feesmustfall protest had rightly brought to the fore that high fees barred the poor and working class from a quality higher education.
“It has also brought into focus the ‘missing middle’ whose families earn marginally just too much to qualify for NSFAS (National Student Financial Aid Scheme) but who remain too poor to afford a higher education for their children.”
He said while there was still no sustainable solution, it was at least finally being given urgent attention and the state was committed to dealing with the issue. It had re-prioritised spending in the short term and redirected significant resources to funding higher education.
NSFAS had been boosted to R10-billion and some R6-billion was found for fee increases and historic debt.
Mabizela said given the positive response and the appointment of a commission to look into long-term university funding issues there seemed little reason for anyone to disrupt registration.
Such disruption, he said, amounted to slamming shut the doors of learning in the face of the poor and marginalised.
He said while peaceful protest would always be allowed, the university would not tolerate any form of violence or damage to property.
Disagreements in institutions of higher learning should be dealt with through engagement, debate, and using the power of logic and reasoned arguments, he said.
According to the university calendar, first-year registration begins on the weekend of February 6.