At its last meeting of the year (10 December 2016), the Council of the University of Cape Town considered and agreed on the fee increases for 2017.
The Council confirmed that qualifying students from families with incomes less than R600 000 will not face any increase in tuition or accommodation costs in 2017.
They also committed to continuing UCT’s unique financial aid support for students in the missing middle. No student accepted on academic grounds will be prevented from studying at UCT for reasons of affordability if they fall into this income group.
In addition, those qualifying students who are in private accommodation will receive an increase of 10% in their financial aid allowances to cover expected rental increases.
Those in self-catering residences will receive an increase of 10% in food allowances to reflect the inflation in food prices.
The Council approved the implementation in 2017 of an 8% general increase in tuition fees and a 10% increase in accommodation fees for students who have a household income over R600 000.
Council noted that for these students, since there was no increase in fees in 2016, this in effect amounts to a 4% increase per year for tuition and a 5% increase per year for accommodation and meals.
In approving this increase the Council reiterated these critical points:
The Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) has committed to providing a grant to each eligible student (National Student Financial Aid Scheme [NSFAS] funded and missing middle) to offset an 8% increase in the tuition and university accommodation fees.
It must be noted that this is a grant not a loan.
UCT will provide an increased financial aid package to eligible students to cover an additional 2% of their accommodation and meal costs, which will not be covered by the government grant.
This means that students on financial aid will not have to pay more than their expected family contribution (EFC), which has been unchanged since 2015.
Students who are funded by NSFAS will automatically qualify for funding to cover the fee increase, while the process to determine qualifying missing-middle students is still under discussion and will be communicated as soon as possible on the financial aid webpage.
In terms of the directives from the DHET, the government grant will not apply to students who receive full bursaries from outside sponsors.
The fee increase of 10% for residence and meals will be completely covered by the DHET grant (8%) and the UCT top up (2%).
This benefit will be matched for qualifying financial aid and missing-middle students who are not in university accommodation, or are in self-catering accommodation.
UCT will increase the level of financial aid allowances for accommodation and meals by 10% so that they can cover the increased costs of private rental and self-purchased food.
For the first time in 2017, first-year students who receive funding from the NSFAS will be given free laptop computers for use at the university.
These decisions were reached following months of engagement and consultation with the Students’ Representative Council.
With regards to international fees, the Council agreed on an 8% increase for students from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and a 10% fee increase for students from outside the SADC.
They noted that there would be a continuation of the various concessions for students from the rest of Africa and for international postgraduate students.
An 8% increase in the US dollar-based fee for the 2017 Semester Study Abroad programme was also agreed.
Several factors influenced the particular percentage increases that were decided upon.
These included inflation, salary increases, insourcing costs, exchange-rate devaluation impacting on libraries and laboratories, and rates and utility increases.
In the case of residences, food inflation at over 11% and insourcing are major cost drivers. But, in addition, after some years of making a loss in the residence system, they are in the middle of a multi-year adjustment plan which requires incremental increases in income above inflation. This is essential in order to pay back loans and to enable them to build a new residence to alleviate the accommodation crisis (like the crisis we experienced in early 2016).
The Chair of Council, Mr Sipho Pityana, reiterated the Council and management’s shared commitment to making higher education more affordable:
“We know the issue of fee-free education is most prominent at present. It is exercising all our minds and much work is being done to find sustainable solutions. We increase the fees reluctantly, but with current government subsidies available to us, we have no choice. If we do not increase fees, we simply won’t be able to deliver at the same level. We are very pleased, however, that we are able to protect the poor and missing-middle students from any increases.”
The Vice-Chancellor said, “The challenge for the Council and university leadership is to balance the long-term sustainability of UCT with the need to ensure that those who cannot afford university fees are financially supported. The long-term sustainability, of course, is not just financial, but necessarily includes advancing UCT’s teaching and research excellence and international reputation.
“This is why we have for many years now (and long before other institutions) committed significant resources to financial aid for academically deserving students from poor and working-class families, including those above the NSFAS threshold.
Last year we gave financial assistance worth R126 million to deserving students.
This came out of UCT’s own budget that we could have used for other things. In addition, we sourced between R280 and R300 million from other sponsors, foundations, alumni and corporates.”
The Vice-Chancellor repeated his commitment to the ideal of fee-free education for the poor, extending financial aid progressively to those who cannot otherwise afford higher education, and to supporting short term solutions in the meantime to bring down the cost of higher education for the missing middle.
He reaffirmed his commitment to working with students and all stakeholders to take practical action to advance these goals.
The Vice-Chancellor added that the Council decisions are not inconsistent with the agreement signed by the UCT executive and the student protest leaders (Shackville TRC) on Sunday, 6 November 2016.
“We are working at national level to influence short-term and long-term policy on funding higher education. Moreover, the effect of our decisions on fees and financial aid has been to bring down the real costs (taking into account inflation) of higher education for the poor and working-class families, including those students not in the residence system.” (See section 3 (iii) of the agreement.)
“Adjusting our income to keep up with the Higher Education Price Index will enable us to advance the academic project while protecting poorer students from increased costs. It enables us to continue to offer students the highest quality qualifications and a great campus experience.
It protects staffing levels so that our upward trajectory in research is maintained. It will help us maintain what may be the best academic infrastructure in Africa. We will be able to sustain our important social responsiveness initiatives and to further enhance our position in the international higher education arena.”