Nzimande Defends 4.7% Increase In Varsity Fees For 2021

Nzimande said that the national framework for fees gazetted in October 2020 aimed to guide institutions on tuition and accommodation fees remaining at the same level for the academic year despite the extended academic year.

Nzimande Defends 4.7% Increase In Varsity Fees For 2021-SurgeZirc SA
Blade Nzimande/Photo File: TSA

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande has defended the 4.7% increase in tuition fees for the 2021 academic year saying it was designed to balance the income requirements of the universities.

This after Nzimande was quizzed in parliamentary questions from IFP MP Siphosethu Ngcobo, who enquired the rationale for his proposal. Ngcobo asked him to justify his proposal to students and parents given that his department had not increased its contribution to the university sector in preceding years and in view of the 2021-22 budget being reduced to fund the SA Airways business rescue plans.

Last month, Nzimande announced that he had written to all university councils with a proposal to increase the fees for the 2021 academic year by 4.7% with accommodation fees set for an increase of 6.7%.

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In his written response, Nzimande said that the proposals had been discussed extensively within the university system before being finalised. “It should be noted that fee increases were implemented for the 2020 academic year. The costs of providing tuition did not reduce as a result of the introduction of emergency remote multimodal teaching and learning.

“In fact, universities in many areas incurred increased costs, including the provision of electronic devices and data, improvements to learning management systems, the cost of health and safety and other costs,” said Nzimande.

He also said that given that no additional funding was available for this, his department had worked with universities to re-prioritise existing funding from earmarked funds, which were approved as a Covid Responsiveness Grant to support institutions and limit the effects of in-year subsidy reductions.

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Nzimande said that the national framework for fees gazetted in October 2020 aimed to guide institutions on tuition and accommodation fees remaining at the same level for the academic year despite the extended academic year.

“Public universities have three main sources of income, state subsidies, tuition fees and other third stream income. The bulk of the funding is received through subsidies and tuition fees. Tuition fees are determined by university councils,” he said.

Nzimande also said since the agreement on a zero percent increase on fees for 2016, there had been a sector-wide agreement that fee increases be kept at an affordable rate, while the development of a policy framework was underway.

He said that in 2017 and 2018, this was set at a maximum of 8% increase and in 2019 and 2020, the increases were CPI-linked, with CPI for tuition and CPI+2 for accommodation.

“This is determined based on the realistic cost increases incurred by institutions for their operations.”

He added that it should be noted that in 2016 when fees were not increased, university expenditure had still increased.

Although fees were charged to students at the same level as 2015, the cost of the gap between the fee income and required budget was covered by substantial funding from the government, which resulted in a baseline increase in the subsidy budget in following years.

“In addition, through the gap grant (fee adjustment grant) provided from 2017 onwards, students with family incomes up to R600 000 received support from the government to cover the gap between the 2016 and increased fee required,” Nzimande said.

Professor Ahmed Bawa, Universities South Africa CEO, said that the universities tuition fee increase was linked to the inflation rate and that they had agreed with the Department of Higher Education to keep the increase at 4.7%.

“If the increase was less than that, if it was zero % based then basically the universities would have 4.7% less to be able to meet all the expenses that they have.

“In fact, we are very, very worried because we’re also expecting a cut in the subsidy levels, and if that happens, then we are very worried because there’ll have to be savings on the part of the universities which might result in the possibility of staff cuts and so on,” Bawa said.

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