Protesters from the University of Cape Town chase away Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi  Maimane during their demonstration  against a proposed hike in tuition fees on Tuesday. Picture: EPA/NIC BOTHMA
Protesters from the University of Cape Town berates Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane during their demonstration against a proposed hike in tuition fees on Tuesday. Picture: EPA/NIC BOTHMA

STUDENTS on Tuesday rejected a 6% cap on university fee increases for 2016 announced by Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande and laid plans for a continuation of nationwide protest action.

Mr Nzimande’s intervention came as a protest against fee hikes that spread to campuses in the Eastern and Western Cape at the University of the Witwatersrand last week, continued to gain momentum, with academics and political parties across the spectrum pledging support for students’ demands.

On Tuesday, Mr Nzimande had a marathon meeting with university stakeholders in Cape Town. "I urge students to accept this offer …. In all conflict situations, there is always necessity to compromise so that no one party gets 100% of what it wants … otherwise we will not resolve the challenges," he said.

Mr Nzimande said the department was investigating university cost drivers. It was also looking at a mechanism that would stipulate that universities intending to increase fees beyond the inflation rate, would have to get permission.

His department would provide financial assistance to universities to mitigate the effect of lower fee increases, he said.

Government subsidies have grown 7.7% over the past three years. They are expected to stall to an estimated 6.3% in the next three years, according to the Treasury’s 2015 estimates.

The estimate for university subsidies for 2015-16 is R26.2bn, up from R24.1bn in 2014-15. The estimate for 2016-17 is R27.6bn.

This and the 6% cap on fee hikes meant universities would now have a larger funding gap.

Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene is set to deliver his medium term budget policy statement on Wednesday and all stakeholders are eagerly awaiting his intervention on the department.

Mr Nzimande said the 6% cap was a short-term reprieve and a task team would be established to look into the funding matter in the long term.

On Tuesday African National Congress secretary-general Gwede Mantashe criticised university vice-chancellors for pleading poverty because they did not get enough funding from the government.

Responding to allegations by vice-chancellors that the financial crises were a result of inadequate funding by the government, Mr Mantashe said universities were also not getting as much funding from the private sector as they did in the past.

He said vice-chancellors had to take full responsibility for the backlash over funding as they were responsible for managing university finances.

"They must take responsibility … you can’t have both autonomy and then the government must be responsible when things go wrong," he said.

He also cautioned students to be wary of "pseudo revolutionaries" who hoped to see an "Arab Spring" coming out of their protest over genuine issues.

Students on Tuesday turned back Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane who sought to address them at the University of Cape Town. So too were other politicians who tried to milk their plight for political profit.

Insiders said students aligned to various political parties were united in protest and warned that the presence of politicians from any one particular organisation would divide the fragile unity among youth formations.

Mr Mantashe said it would be "dangerous" for students to continue the protest at the cost of writing their end-of-the-year examinations.

"A number of students will lose a year … (that) cost will be much bigger than the increase they are fighting against."