Enraged Wits University students blocked off entrances to the institution on Wednesday morning in protest against planned fee increases.
Fees are expected to go up by 10.5 percent from next year due to declining government subsidies, but the students will have none of it, saying the “exorbitant” increase excludes working class students from the chance of getting a higher education.
They blocked cars trying to enter the university from 6am, disrupted classes, opened lecture hall doors and chanted struggle songs.
“In barring the cars from coming in, we’re showing how many students won’t be able to come back next year #WitsFeesMustFall,” tweeted Fizzy Schwarzeneggar (@Fizzy_Mabz).
The confrontation got physical shortly before 9am when a student on a motorcycle tried to force his way through and was pushed back out by the crowd.
Security had to intervene and stop protesting students from fighting with those trying to enter the campus.
“There are people who are writing tests. I’m upset because I drove here from far away and classes are cancelled,” said Shahil Singh.
However there were many who supported the action. “When I started at Wits in 2007, the registration fee was about R5 000. It’s now almost R10 000. #WitsFeesMustFall,” wrote @ThatDasia.
Others, like @valavoosh, said to cut costs the university should stop outsourcing services.
“Universities are meant to be centres of learning but they are looking more and more like businesses #WitsFeesMustFall.”
Wits chief financial officer Linda Jarvis said since Wits announced the fee increases, she has been inundated with students asking her why it was necessary.
She said the increases were necessary because:
* The rand-dollar exchange has fallen by 22 percent, which now means the university has to spend more to buy library books, journals and other items overseas.
* Salary increases for academic staff are set at 7 percent on a three-year cycle
* Inflation is hovering at 6 percent while rates for utilities are increasing at a rate higher than that.
Jarvis said they expected a subsidy increase of 5 percent from the government and this wouldn’t be enough to cover their expenses.
She said Wits had, in fact, reduced the fee increases from 11 percent to 10.5 percent and the registration fee from 10 to 6 percent.
“We are mindful of the current economic climate and financial strain on students and families.
About 20 000 of our students are on bursaries, scholarships and financial aid, but we are cognisant of the pressure this increase places on parents and caregivers of those who pay their own way,” Jarvis said.
Higher Education and Training spokesman Khaye Nkwanyana agreed with the students that the increase was too high.
“These institutions always raise their fees in double digits and the decision excludes many students who can’t afford it.”
Nkwanyana said Higher Education and Training Minister BladeNzimande was investigating the cost drivers.
Wits spokeswoman Shirona Patel said that by 10am, lecturers were continuing as normal.
But according to reports, students were mobilising others to be part of a protest at 12pm on Wednesday.
Metro Police are monitoring the situation.