SADTU urges University Students to register for the 2016 Academic year despite challenges in Higher Education

19 January 2016

SADTU notes the impact that the "#FeesMustFall" movement has had in the country in recent months. We commend the students and their organised formations in the form of Progressive Youth Alliance structures for having revitalised the fight for access to quality education. We believe that these are genuine struggles of the working class and they must be protected as such. We must remain vigilant and resist all attempts by some groupings to hijack genuine struggles and use them to advance political agendas.

We acknowledge that the ANC-led government has made major strides in increasing access to higher education for the previously disenfranchised majority and this is evidenced by an increase in enrolment statistics. This has been done through interventions such as NSFAS and the opening of three new post apartheid universities. The reality however is that more needs to be done and with rapid speed.

One of our biggest concerns as teachers and public servants is that we find ourselves firmly in what has been classified as the "missing middle" category and the prospects of us emerging from that category seem very slim given our income levels. It is the children of teachers and other public servants that often do not qualify for the NSFAS loan according to set standards and regulations.

Simultaneously, those in the "missing middle" do not qualify for commercial education loans putting them in an extremely disadvantaged position. It is against this background that we are calling for speedy reforms to the rules and regulations governing NSFAS to ensure that those in the "missing middle" acquire access to such assistance.

On our part as public servants, we will intensify our call for the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) to come into the picture in a meaningful way to assist our cause for access to higher education. We will equally mobilise sister unions in the public service sector to agitate for the PIC to look into innovative ways in which it can invest what essentially belongs to the workers towards the education of their children.

Whilst we note that it will be difficult to achieve free higher education in an essentially capitalist society, we believe that a lot more must be done to ensure that no deserving student is left outside of the system due to financial reasons. Our view is that the concept of institutional autonomy is being abused and misused by unscrupulous Vice-Chancellors and University Councils to financially exclude students whilst resisting transformation. As much as we recognise the importance of academic independence, we believe that institutional autonomy cannot be defended at the expense of education being a public good.

We want to urge returning and prospective students to go and register for the 2016 academic year without any further delay despite the intimidation by some rogue elements. We call upon the PYA structures to mobilise their branches on campuses in defence of students` rights to register. We all have a moral obligation to defend and advance the rights of those who wish to register for this academic year and to expose those who are exploiting a genuine struggle to collapse the system for their own selfish reasons.

We strongly believe that the Presidential Commission that has been established should afford all the affected parties an opportunity to make submissions in order to make higher education free for the poor. We therefore call upon everyone in education to make submission so that together we can address this matter.

Issued by: SADTU Secretariat