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Fee protests have cost universities R150m—so far

Protests on university campuses across South Africa since last year have cost the sector R150 million (US$9m) so far, the country’s higher education minister has said.

Blade Nzimande made the announcement on 20 January during a media briefing immediately after he had met vice-chancellors.

Protests, which now focus on abolishing university fees, cancelling student debt, and reversing the trend of ‘outsourcing’ support staff such as cleaners, have broken out again as students head back after the holiday season.  

Nzimande warned protesters about the financial repercussions of their actions. The R150m spent directly by universities excluded the “exorbitant” sums being spent on additional security, he added.

He emphasised that this money was eating into university budgets for other needs, including teaching and student support. “We appeal to our groups of protestors to make this expenditure unnecessary so that it can be better spent in building our education system,” the minister said.

Nzimande added that although changes to student financial support mechanisms were underway, this would not be implemented in the 2016 academic year. Nor would universities be able to offer students a no-fees option.

“Our current funding model is dependent on fees, therefore all students have to pay fees whether funded by loans, bursaries or families,” the minister said.

Meanwhile, Adam Habib, the vice-chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand, defended his institution’s choice to bring in extra security to enable key university business to go ahead.

Security staff have been fingered for using hard-handed tactics to break up protesters.

Habib insisted that alleged wrongdoings by private security companies could had not yet been substantiated, and that strict measures are in place to prevent violence from security services.