Student holds placard in registration protest at Wits in Braamfontein, Johannesburg on January 11, 2016. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Student holds placard in registration protest at Wits in Braamfontein, Johannesburg earlier this month. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

THE university fees protests that rocked SA last year and continued into the new academic year have cost universities R150m so far.

Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande disclosed the figure on Wednesday after he met vice-chancellors and representatives of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

Mr Nzimande urged students to protest peacefully, saying the violence seen recently was "unacceptable". "We cannot afford anymore damage to property," he said.

The University of SA and the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) obtained court interdicts against protesting students last week.

The University of Pretoria followed suit and also obtained a second interdict barring attempts to prevent anyone from exiting campus.

Also on the list of universities that have sought court interdicts is the University of the North West, which did so on Tuesday. The university has also, like others, moved its physical registration online to avoid further disruptions.

Mr Nzimande said the delegation welcomed the R6.9bn injection the government was putting into universities.

He reminded members of the media that NSFAS would pilot a new funding model for the missing middle students — students who could not afford university fees but did not meet NSFAS criteria — next year.

The chairman of NSFAS, Sizwe Nxasana, said the new model would go beyond the "crude" means test the scheme currently uses. He said the model will not just focus on the missing middle but on all the students who qualified for NSFAS.

Wits Vice-Chancellor Adam Habib said he met student representative council leaders on Tuesday and they reached an agreement on some of the issues students have had.

Students will not be financially excluded from Wits, he said. The first fee payment will be interest-free for those who cannot afford to pay, and the university will report on progress made in insourcing services.

Wages for university employees will also be increased to between R4, 500 and R5,000.

Mr Habib said the university could reduce its security presence on campus, but only if students stop violent protests.

The vice-chancellors have warned students that violent protests would bring permanent damage to the entire higher education sector.