It's a long walk for funds for cash-strapped varsities

21 July 2016 - 19:41 By Deneesha Pillay

From hiking 43kms through an ancient civilisation and asking parents to pay more‚ to asking alumni to empty their purses and offering staff early retirement. These are some of the creative and painful steps universities are taking to bring in extra cash after the devastating financial blow dealt when President Jacob Zuma bowed to demands from protesting students and said there would be a zero-percent fee increase in academic fees in 2016. The financial strain currently experienced by universities across South Africa in the wake of #FeesMustFall concessions is a growing concern for the long-term financial stability of tertiary institutions. The student-led movement started in in October last year in protest against fees increases at universities as well as lack of funding for poorer students and the slow pace of transformation. Starting at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits) the protest shortly spread to the University of Cape Town (UCT)‚ the University of Pretoria (UP) and Rhodes University (RU) before quickly spreading to other universities across the country.They eventually prompted President Jacob Zuma to announce that university fees would be frozen for 2016 and that a 0% increase would be implemented. As a result‚ a number of cost saving and fund generating measures have been implemented by the country's universities. UCT spokesperson‚ Elijah Moholola said that it was not only #FeesMustFall that had contributed to the current financial squeeze‚ but also a declining government subsidy and insourcing. He said UCT had renewed efforts to raise funds from foundations‚ corporates‚ donors and alumni. "This includes an appeal to parents to donate an amount equal to the originally proposed fee increase for 2016 (10.3%) to UCT's financial aid fund so that we can sustain the university's commitment to substantial financial aid well beyond the thresholds set by NSFAS ( National Student Financial Aid Scheme)‚" Moholola said. The institution also employed a financial liaison coordinator‚ to ensure that current relationships with funders were consolidated and to explore new funding avenues. In addition‚ earlier this year‚ Vice-Chancellor Max Price announced that UCT was offering its staff incentivised early retirement and voluntary separation. The deadline for staff to apply for these offers was June 30 2016‚ however UCT advised TMG Digital that confirmation of whether or not their applications were accepted would only be made known later this year and the identities of staff members who apply would not be made public. Wits‚ which was recently ranked as South Africa's best tertiary institution according to a list released by the Centre for World University Rankings (CWUR)‚ said that the plans to advance transformation through the insourcing of workers had been approved by council. In turn‚ Wits Vice Chancellor Professor Adam Habib said that insourcing was due to be implemented from January 2017. Insourcing refers to the practice of using an organisation or institution’s own personnel or other resources to accomplish a task‚ rather than outsourcing them to outside suppliers. "Council approved this strategy and placed a cap of R100 million on the total cost of insourcing‚ including all incidental costs. "Council emphasised that insourcing could not be undertaken at the expense of the academic project and that this figure could thus not be exceeded. Insourcing is due to be implemented from January 2017‚" Habib said. He added that a task team had been formed to consult with university stakeholders on how budgets could be adjusted to the cost of insourcing and other costs related to #FeesMustFall. "The Task Team will put forward options to Senate and Council later this year‚" he said. But Habib said that while insourcing was a major step forward to enhance equity and social justice‚ several other initiatives were being considered‚ including: "diversifying the academy‚ curriculum reform‚ implementing our new language policy‚ addressing issues related out institutional culture‚ reviewing our institutional naming‚ enabling access to higher education and embracing diversity in all its forms." This week‚ Rhodes University denied rumours that it would be closing down due to funding shortages. "Let me state from the outset that Rhodes University is a going concern. It is not about to close down‚" said Vice Chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela. "The financial strain currently experienced by Rhodes University is experienced by all public universities in South Africa. "Given its smallness‚ Rhodes University is particularly vulnerable and sensitive to changes in its funding streams that are a result of a fiscally strained national environment in which we find ourselves‚" Mabizela said in an e-mailed communiqué to alumni‚ parents‚ donors and funders of the university. Mabizela added that over the past few months Rhodes University leadership has been developing a financial sustainability plan for our University. Among other things‚ "we are embarking on aggressive cost containment efforts which has become a central theme in our decision-making processes; exploring possible new sources of income; investing in improving our throughput and graduation rates; engaging our academics with a view to improving our scholarly outputs; complementing NSFAS funding with R45 million of our own funding to assist academically deserving students who are in financial need‚" he said. He said Rhodes would also be launching a student financial aid campaign‚ the Isivivane Fund‚ to ensure that no academically deserving student was turned away simply because he or she cannot pay the university fees. Spokesperson for Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU)‚ Debbie Derry‚ said that Vice Chancellor Prof Derrick Swarts had recognised a long time ago that government could not resolve the crisis in isolation. Instead‚ all players need to find solutions for the present financial crisis to ensure that the sector is sustainable and viable. "He personally took responsibility for raising funds through various fundraising campaigns‚" she said. As part of a campaign to help 160 of its students complete their qualifications‚ Chancellor Santie Botha‚ Swarts and other volunteers plan to tackle a four-day Inca trail to Machu Picchu in South America in September‚ to raise R4 million. "He wants to inculcate a culture of giving back among NMMU students and staff so that the next generation receive the kind of support that he received as a student himself. "He has been relieved of the day-to-day running of the university until the end of the year so that he can concentrate on three tasks: ensuring the university's ongoing financial sustainability and viability; ensuring that the ocean sciences campus is established and securing government support for the university's innovative approach for a medical school that meets South Africa's particular health needs‚" Derry said. She added that while NMMU has been fortunate to escape damage and violent protests‚ the uncertainty within the sector has caused anxiety for staff and students. "We are presently running a 'Case for Change' campaign to enable staff and students to engage in the many challenges we are facing. We are hopeful that if staff and students understand the challenges we are facing‚ then we can co-create solutions‚" she said. The Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training (CIHET) told TMG Digital that it was unable‚ at present‚ to answer any queries related to the financial standing of South African tertiary institutions. "At this stage‚ the Commission is in no position to give any input on the matters you raised as this will seriously contravene its terms of reference. We do‚ however‚ welcome enquiries regarding details of where and when interested parties and individuals can make their oral input for the Commission's consideration‚" CIHET spokesperson‚ Musa Ndwandwe said. The cost of a BA What does it cost to study a basic Bachelor of Arts degree at universities in different parts of the country in 2016? UniversityTuitionResRhodes UniversityR37 200R48 100Wits UniversityR33 640 - R 43 320R33 660 (excluding meals)University of the Free StateR26 015R21 235Stellenbosch UniversityR33 234 R35 520 – R36 360University of Cape Town R46 000R43 800 (excluding meals)University of Fort HareR23 137R38 560

This article is reserved for Sunday Times subscribers.

A subscription gives you full digital access to all Sunday Times content.

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Registered on the BusinessLIVE, Business Day or Financial Mail websites? Sign in with the same details.

Questions or problems? Email or call 0860 52 52 00.