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Tuition fee protests shut down 2 of SA’s biggest universities

Wits & Rhodes have been shut down while UCT has been affected by early morning protests.

A handful of protesters gathered at UCT in protest against a proposed increase in tuition on Monday 19 October 2015. Picture: Lauren Isaacs/EWN.

CAPE TOWN/JOHANNESBURG - South Africa's biggest universities have been affected by student protests over rising tuition fees that have spread from Wits to the University of Cape Town (UCT) and Rhodes University.

Lectures at Wits and Rhodes have since been suspended.

Students at Rhodes University have this morning blocked all entrances to the university.

Management is meeting some students and SRC representatives this morning.

Rhodes SRC president Zikisa Maqubela says protesters are demanding lower fees and a cut to the proposed 50 percent increase in the initial minimum payment, which they've described as "exclusionary fees".

Maqubela says students met with senior management on Friday but were not satisfied with the outcome.

"The protest is about the minimum initial payment, students are saying it's too high and they are shutting down the university. We've barricaded all entrances to the university so nobody is getting in."

He says the students are not asking the institution to do away with the initial minimum payment but rather decrease the amount.

Meanwhile at the UCT, protesting students are also blocking access to the institution against a proposed 11 percent increase in tuition fees.

#University Public Order Police Nyala just arrived at UCT. @ThomHolder pic.twitter.com/LiPlB9SwlI

Their action started early this morning.

#University Roughly 30 students barricade Lower Campus Jammie route at #UCTFeesMustFall pic.twitter.com/oplIXKd9pq

There are also reports of protests at Stellenbosch University and the University of Fort Hare, but the institutions have yet to confirm this.

Stellenbosch University management says it will continue talks with its student representative council over fee increases.

The university's Martin Viljoen said, "The university has undertaken to provide the student representative council, in addition to the meetings and discussions already held, with a written explanation of reasons why an increase of 11,5 percent in study fees for 2016 is essential."

WITS TO REPORT BACK

Management at Wits is expected to report back to students later today on a new proposed fee hike while UCT management will do the same.

This comes after the varsity council members agreed with protesting students to suspend a 10,5 percent increase for next year.

Students had staged a sit in, saying they would not leave until their demands were met.

The university says it has considered all options and says government and the banking sector must help.

Spokesperson Shirona Patel said, "Council is the highest decision making body in the university and they will now start the process afresh. Council consists of about 30 members. There are people from inside the university such as students and many from outside including government."

FREE EDUCATION

As the demonstrations continue, the Higher Education and Training Department has urged universities to be sensitive to the plight of poor students when considering fee hikes.

The department's Diane Parker said, "Institutions have to look deeper and introspectively into themselves to make decisions about what they prioritise. Is it really important to be high up on the ranking states internationally? Is that is what quality means. We have to balance this out and I think it's very important for institutions to be sensitive."

President Jacob Zuma says while he sympathises with protesting university students, their concerns should be brought to management's attention through the correct means without the use of violence.

He says the ANC's long-term objective is free education for all but the issues over fees require both government and the universities input.

"It's a question of all stakeholder coming together to discuss these issues."

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