South African academics join student protest for fee-free education

4 Oct 2016


“This is a national crisis, and we need a national response.”

Statement by Academics

Universities in South Africa are currently in crisis. This crisis has its origins in years of steadily declining government funding. To help balance their books, university administrators have been forced to pass more and more of the financial burden onto students via fee increases, to the point where students have been forced to declare that enough is enough.

Student protests are a symptom of this crisis. They are not its cause. The primary culprit is the South African government, which has failed to adequately fund higher education, and has squandered precious state resources via waste and corruption.

At this critical moment, we are calling on academics, parents and others across South Africa to organize in solidarity with students in support of the goal of increased funding. In the interests of building the broadest possible support, we believe that expressions of solidarities should include – as an absolute minimum – a demand for an increase in funding from a mere 0.75% of GDP on higher education to at least 1.5% of GDP for universities. Such an increase would begin to bring South Africa in line with countries in the continent and beyond. Many countries spend similar or more, including Senegal (1.4%), Ghana (1.4%), Russia (1.8%), Argentina (1.4), India (1.3%) and Cuba (4.5%). An increase of funding to 1.5% of GDP wouldn’t solve all of our current problems, but it would represent a positive improvement on the road to something better.

As academics who are responsible for the quality of South African universities, we call on government to take seriously the worth of a university education as a public good, rather than a private commodity. Thanks to decades of declining funding, universities have been left in an impossible financial position. Our teaching programs and classrooms have been squeezed to breaking point. We struggle to find time and resources to conduct research. And, crucially, too many of our students lack both the support and financial security required in order to complete their studies.

We therefore call on academics across the country to organize public pickets on Friday the 7th of October, 12h30 to 14h00 outside of university campuses in academic gowns, using placards and other forms of protest material, calling on government to address the funding crisis in South African universities. The call for increased funding to 1.5% of GDP represents a minimum position. Action can and should include public calls for even further action, such as support for the cause of fee-free education. In addition, we call upon colleagues across South Africa to develop and further strengthen alliances with students, parents, comrades, unions, non-governmental organisations, and professional associations in defense of our public universities. This is a national crisis, and we need a national response.

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