‘We can't wait for a judicial commission’ – UCT’s Price said action on fees is needed now

14 November 2016 - 13:51 By Katharine Child

University of Cape Town vice-chancellor Max Price said a judicial commission is not the way to solve the fees crisis‚ pacify protesting students and stabilise universities‚

The intention of a judicial commission is to solve crime‚ and as it “calls witnesses and subpoenas people” it takes a long time to resolve the issues‚ Price told an audience at the Discovery Leadership Summit in Sandton on Monday.

He said the commission’s report was expected early in 2018 and then the country’s budget could potentially be changed in 2019.

“The impact on fees will only be on 2020 as the budget gets announced in 2019. Our response is to call government to act now. “We can't wait for a judicial commission‚” Price said‚ adding that the delay in finding a solution by using a lengthy commission had fuelled student anger.

Price said the government must create a technical task team that could provide solutions within months.

Talk show host Redi Tlhabi‚ who moderated the education debate at the summit‚ asked if Price agreed with University of the Witwatersrand vice-chancellor Adam Habib’s earlier analysis‚ made on 702‚ that universities beset by crisis would experience a exodus of wealthy and middle-class students. Habib had said the rich would send their children to study overseas. This‚ he argued‚ would leave universities with only poor students and no cross-subsidisation by wealthier students‚ which would lead to further financial difficulties.

Price said: “I agree with the analysis in a sense that if higher education is in a perpetual crisis and unstable‚ [but] the real problem lies in losing our top staff.

“If they are working in an environment where they can't teach or it is disrupted… if they are going to feel intimidated‚ then they going to look elsewere [for work].

Price said the academics were globally “competitive”‚ and an exodus would damage the quality of local universities.

National Student Financial Aid Scheme board chairperson Sizwe Nxasana said he had worked out a model that would provide free education‚ food‚ accommodation and a stipend for poor students‚ as well as affordable loans for the missing middle and working class‚ that is to be presented at the judicial commission next week.

It would cost R45-billion a year‚ Nxasana said.

Price‚ however‚ reminded him that some students do not want free education for just the poor‚ but for everyone.

Price also reminded the audience that protesting students are not an homogeneous group‚ but have different leaders and demands.

Thlabi suggested that universities have become places that are used by students to call for solutions to many socio-economic ills and are no longer seen as just institutions of learning and teaching.

– TMG Digital/The Times