Are South African Universities Failing their Students

The headline is from over ten years ago but little seems to have changed in the interim – Further Protests Shut Down South African Universities.  It seems that however much the students protest, the last major ones were in 2016, the more they are ignored by the authorities.  Indeed often the violence and damage caused is even used as a justification.

In 2015, there were proposed rises of between 10% and 12% for tuition in most South African Universities.    Ultimately the protests led to a freeze however this only lasted one year and since then the costs of education have steadily risen.  In 2017 the proposal was to raise fees by around an average of 8% – an awful lot of money for students who are not well off in the first place.

To be fair some concessions were granted including some subsidies for students from less well off backgrounds.  Although this was only a small concession and related to the increase rather than the whole cost.

Many Africans are worried that they are being shut out of education especially those from poorer backgrounds.   Education is almost universally accepted as the primary method of improving life chances and prospects, yet many are routinely denied this option due to cost.

There are improving opportunities in South Africa, indeed a growing digital economy is one example.  However to use these options – education is vital.  Students need to learn how the technology works  and how they can use things like an Instagram proxy in order to create an online business.

Student protesters and police continue skirmishes outside school grounds continue this week as universities shut down during a critical time of the semester. South Africa’s Wits and Cape Town universities suspended classes on Wednesday for a second time the previous month.

The student protests root from the higher cost of education. According to many black students, the costs have become a symbol of the inequalities that endure in South Africa more than two decades after the lifting of the apartheid system.

A spokeswoman for the University of the Witwatersrand, known as Wits, and which reopened on Monday after protests last month forced a shutdown, said late on Tuesday that classes would be canceled until Oct. 10.

“We have agreed to suspend the academic program,” Shirona Patel said.

Wits, which has been the epicenter of the protests, conducted a poll last week asking students if they wanted go back to class.

Police had come in riot equipment. They had fired stun grenades and used rubber bullets and tear gas after students calling for free education in Wits.

The protesters threw stones at police and even flipped one vehicle over.

UCT spokeswoman Pat Lucas said that protesters had in the early hours of Wednesday attacked private security guards, broken into some buildings and started fires. Eight students had been arrested in the preceding day’s violence.

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