Fees Commission: Declining govt funding remains an issue

UWC told the commission that its government subsidies have decreased from 49% to 39% since 2000.

FILE: A student holds a placard during the Fees Must Fall protest at the Union Buildings. Picture: Christa Eybers/EWN.

CAPE TOWN - The Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training sitting in Cape Town has heard how government funding of universities has declined by 11 percent over the last 15 years.

Several organisation's including Equal Education, the Centre for Creative Education and the University of the Western Cape made submissions to the commission on Monday.

The commission is looking into the feasibility of free tertiary education.

The University of the Western Cape (UWC) spoke of its history of financial difficulty, facing bankruptcy and how a majority of students rely on financial aid from the state.

Deputy vice-chancellor, Vivienne Lawack, says government subsidies have gone down from 49% to 39% since 2000.

"It's had quite a significant impact on us, which also meant that we had to look more into our second stream of funding which is tuition, and our third stream of funding."

Equal Education's Andile Cele says the funding model doesn't seem to take into account other factors.

"If you're going to fund a university with R20 billion when there are only 200,000 kids in the system, that is different compared to R21 billion where there are 400,000 kids in the system. So that needs to be ratioed in relation to the number of students in the system."

UWC also told the Fees Commission that it supports free education for the poor and so-called "missing middle".

The university says it's lost R56 million this year because of government's decision not to hike fees.

At the beginning of the year, UWC had to give financial clearance to 69% of its more than 21 thousand students unable to pay registration and up front tuition fees.

Last year, the institution had about R170 million in unpaid student debt.

Deputy vice-chancellor Vivienne Lawack says with some students unable to settle and a decline in government funding, the university is vulnerable.

"Due to the high proportion of our students being dependent on NSFAS and other financial support measures as well as signing loan agreements with us at as a university, we as a university could face severe financial challenges."

(By Neo Koza)