The letter she had been waiting and hoping for finally arrived.
Dear Ms Thandeka Msiza, Congratulations. You have been . . .
The now second year student at the University of Pretoria (UP) still remembers the day she got her acceptance letter to study law at UP like it was yesterday.
She was so excited and felt privileged when she learned that she will be fulfilling her dream of becoming a lawyer. But now she feels like the university is trying to stop her from making that dream a reality.
“What is happening is that the university is increasing registration fees for next year and 2024, so currently the registration fee at UP for undergraduates is R5 000, and they want it to be R7 500 next year, and R10 000 in 2024.
“And for postgraduates, it is currently R7 500 and they want it to be R10 000 then R12 500 in 2024. And they want international students to pay R40 000, for registration and half of their fees,” another UP student, Thuto Mashila, who is president of the student representative council (SRC), tells Drum.
Academic classes were disrupted on Monday at the main campus in Hatfield when the students protested the increases. Thuto says they had to blockade the normal operations of the university for a positive outcome.
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“The SRC has engaged with the management, we have consulted we have had several meetings, and they still maintained that they are going to increase these fees, come hell or come high waters, so as the SRC we had a mass meeting. We invited all of the students and we collectively agreed that we are going to shut down the university, saying that no lectures must resume, nothing must function as normal for as long as the university’s management doesn’t get back to us with a positive response,” says Thuto.
“In the meetings, we even gave suggestions to management that came from students, because we offered them a platform to give opinions. We have provided them with those suggestions and solutions, but they said that is not going to work for them, they are going to stick with what they have, so they are not letting anything happen as peacefully as it should.”
The 22-year-old Thandeka tells Drum that her mother had to save up for her registration fees in order for her to be able to enrol for her law studies. Seeing the sacrifices her mother had to make just so she could register makes her feel that the decision by the University of Pretoria to increase registration fees is unfair.
“There are those who I feel that the university did not consider when they reached the conclusion, it is not fair,” Thandeks says.
“I think they should’ve increased the fees gradually, at least, and not once off. Because of affordability, my mom had to save up for my registration fees because NSFAS was not responding at the time.”
“Emails have been sent to students from the office of the VC threatening to suspend students who continue to disrupt classes and that instilled fear among those who wished to join the protest,” according to Thuto.
On Wednesday, 24 August 2022, Thuto says they gathered at the university’s student centre waiting for feedback from UP management.
“They came to speak to us and said that they also want things to go back to normal and suggested to at least meet each other halfway,”
But the students maintain they want a zero percent increase.
“We did not want anything to increase. However, with the suggestions that students have sent, they did not want anything more than a 10% increase,” says Thuto.
“There are students who are already struggling this year with the little that they have, so you can imagine what will happen next year when the fees are high?
“There are so many students who couldn’t even register because of the debts that they already have and because they couldn’t come up with the R5 000 the university is already charging.”
In response to Drum, the university’s spokesperson, Rikus Delport, has said in a statement that a small group of students led by Student Representative Council members attempted to disrupt activities on UP’s Hatfield campus on Monday.
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“The protests by this small group of students are based on incorrect assumptions regarding first payment of tuition fees,” says Rikus in the statement.
“The first payment of fees for next year has been increased from R5 000 to R 7 500, meaning that the instalments thereafter will be lower. The students’ tuition fees do not change because of the increase in the first payment.
“The University held off increasing the first payment earlier because of the financial hardship of students and the Covid-19 pandemic.
“However, the financial situation of the university has meant that an increase can regrettably no longer be put off. The university will reduce risk through the first payment.
“The increase of the first payment of tuition fees from next year followed lengthy and detailed discussions with all stakeholders last year, including the SRC.”
Rikus added that teaching has resumed at all the university’s campuses and that there are “several financial support measures in place to assist students who experience financial difficulties”.
“And [we] will do everything we can to help them. Furthermore, UP allocated an estimated R500 million to about 8 000 students in 2021 in the form of university-managed and external bursaries.
“About 20 000 of our students are supported financially.”