Registration fees postponed after #FeesMustFall unrest

South Africa’s #FeesMustFall movement has found resonance in neighbouring Namibia, where student protests last week resulted in the government postponing registration fee payment at the Namibia University of Science and Technology or NUST.

After student representative council and Namibia National Students Organisation demonstrations demanding a reduction in registration fees, the university allowed students to register irrespective of whether or not they could afford the US$213 upfront.

Students mistook the decision to mean that fees had been totally scrapped.

According to New Era newspaper, NUST and the Ministry of Education only agreed to allow students to register without having to pay fees upfront – students would be required to settle the fees before they are allowed to sit for June examinations, and the decision was only applicable to the current semester.

Students had carried out their protests shouting “Fees must fall”, in apparent reference to the #FeesMustFall movement that swept through South Africa from October last year, and has continued in a morphed form this year. The cost of registration fees has been a major issue.

Fees effect

Professor Tjama Tjivikua, the NUST vice-chancellor, was concerned that postponing the payment of registration fees would affect operations of the university.

The university currently spends between US$3.4 million and US$3.7 million per month on supplies and services, and US$2.4 million on salaries, The Namibian newspaper reported.

Tjivikua said the university was owed about US$17 million by the government for the 2015 financial year and student debt stood at US$2.6 million for the same period. This might oblige the university to obtain a bank overdraft, leading to the institution paying interest.

“The university has very limited resources and can only operate for the current month after which cash flow will become a problem. This is partly compounded by the fact that much of the outstanding debt has not been settled, and the institution is not collecting funds from the registration process,” Tjivikua was quoted as saying.

The vice-chancellor emphasised the need for students to pay tuition fees, saying the postponement was not a permanent solution and that all accounts not covered by government will have to be settled by the students before the June examinations.

He said universities generally generate savings to create endowments that cushion them from depreciation and emergencies to maintain quality.

But Tjivikua said NUST had had no reserves for the past three years. Reserves previously held due to prudent financial management were eroded by a serious subsidy cut in 2012, which was followed by low-level funding since then.

“If there is unspent money in the budget by the end of the year, then it can only be that the government subsidy has not been transferred to the university by year’s end,” he said. “In fact, such funding forced NUST to take out a US$6 million loan in 2014, which we have fully repaid.”

Tjivikua said that in addition to the inadequate annual subsidy from government for infrastructure, the slow release of money made it difficult to operate. “Our investments have tangible results for all to see but the low-level funding and slow pace of funds released create a highly undesirable situation,” he said.

Minister wades in

Dr Itah Kandjii-Murangi, the higher education minister, added her voice to the debacle saying the decision last week to allow university students to register without having to pay a fee did not mean there would be free tertiary education in public higher education institutions.

Kandjii-Murangi said the Namibia Students Financial Assistance Fund, or NSFAF, will be revamped to establish different categories of students who will be eligible for funding. Students receive loans through NSFAF which they must pay back on completion of their studies.