Students question increase in light of the university’s ‘savings’ during the three months of hard lockdown in 2020.

Wits University is increasing its tuition fees by 4.7% and residence fees by 6.7% for the 2021 academic year, which is in line with directives by the department of higher education and training (DHET).

Minister of the DHET, Blade Nzimande, in a statement released in November 2020, said that due to uncertainties caused by covid-19, the department could not complete the policy framework on the regulation of university fees.

“[The department] has therefore proposed a further fee compact to public universities, continuing what has been in place for the past few years,” said Nzimande.

The minister went on to say, “I have written to all university councils with a proposal for a Consumer Price Index (CPI) linked fee increase for 2021″ so that universities would remain sustainable.

The Wits SRC is opposed to the fee increases. “There are no projected financial costs that the university will incur in the 2021 academic year. In the event that the university was able to establish in what regard they are increasing costs for, this would enable us to understand the reason as to why fees are increasing,” SRC president Mpendulo Mfeka told Wits Vuvuzela.

“In the 2020 academic year there were reduced costs. What we mean is, there was a period [of up to three months] when no one was using the buses, toilet paper, electricity and water. Meaning the university saved. It makes no sense for them to increase the fees by the figure they are increasing them by,” Mfeka said.

In an article by Independent Online, Universities South Africa CEO Professor Ahmend Bawa attributed the fee increment to the inflation rate.

“If there was no increase then basically universities would have 4.7% less to be able to meet all expenses that they have,” he said.

As far as Wits is concerned, those expenses do not include staff salaries because the university is not giving staff increases in 2021.

The university’s senior executive team (SET) released a statement on January 22, saying the university’s budget would be constrained for up to four years.

“Given that approximately 60% of the council budget is dedicated to salaries, the SET mandated a team to negotiate with organised labour around the multi-year collective agreement on salary increases…Despite extensive engagement in the forum… salary increases for 2021 have not yet been confirmed as is required in terms of the collective agreement,” the statement read.

In the meantime, a temporary prohibition has been placed on salary increases as management and organised labour continue to seek alternative solutions, which will ensure both financial sustainability for the institution and job security for staff.

“There’s nothing nice about not getting a raise because everything has gone up, literally just yesterday the price of fuel went up. So, when we don’t get a salary increase that leaves us in debt and unable to meet our needs because now even the salary raise we got in January 2020, which was enough then is no longer enough to sustain us now,” said Sifiso Gumede, a security officer at Wits.

“Everything I was buying before lockdown has gone up by five to 10 percent, even my children’s school fees have gone up,” he added.

In response to Wits Vuvuzela‘s query on what the university would use the fees increase for, senior communications officer Buhle Zuma said about “27 700 of Wits’ 39 500 students [received] financial aid, scholarships or bursaries in 2020. Of these, 35% are NSFAS students”.

She continued that the university has a hardship fund to assist students from the ‘missing middle’ who for different reasons cannot secure funding, to receive financial support subject to meeting the qualifying criteria and the availability of funds.

“As per the previous year, Wits University has allocated R10 million for the Hardship Fund in 2021,” Zuma said.

FEATURED IMAGE: A student receives help at the Wits fees office. Photo: Khuleko Siwele