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SAAPS Statement on Fees #FeesMustFall Movement

The South African Association of Political Studies (SAAPS) adds it voice to the national-wide call for more accessible and better quality higher education in South Africa.

We firmly believe that development and democracy require a well-functioning higher-education system able to maximise the full potential of the people of the South Africa. We believe that access to, and success in, higher education should be determined by student ability and application alone, and that this implies addressing the many forms of social exclusion that prohibit such access and success. Further, history has shown that quality education necessarily requires the freedom provided by institutional autonomy to conduct research, test popular assumptions, debate hard issues, and pursue new and innovative questions.

We applaud the actions of our students who, by mobilising on a scale unprecedented in the higher education sector, have placed these issues at the centre of the national debate. We recognise the overwhelmingly peaceful and articulate nature of the mobilisation that transcended many party political and popular divides , exemplifying the possibilities of democratic and rights-based citizenship in our country.

Yet we cannot ignore the fact that that there have been instances of intimidation and damage to public property, and must affirm that the right to protest in a democratic society must not trump the rights of others to express contending opinions, attend classes or write examinations. We further condemn the moments of excessive force used by the police against students, and support the calls for investigation into police conduct during the protests.

We welcome the President’s announcement of a 0% student fee increase for 2016, although we are concerned about the lack of any clear plan to fund the deficits that Universities now face. This has serious implications for the sustainability of Universities, and the historically disadvantaged Universities in particular. We note that some SRCs and University managements have concluded agreements specific to their university contexts and we respect the autonomy of these institutions to do so.

There is however a need to reflect on the long term framework for higher education, and we strongly endorse the call for a sustained and national engagement on a more accessible and better quality higher education sector, and especially the funding thereof. We believe this process should be clearly structured and inclusive of all stakeholders in the sector, including especially students and academic staff, and be conducted in a transparent way.