Cape Town – South African students should expect a fee increase of 8% across the sector, Universities South Africa said on Friday.
However, it remains to be seen whether the predicted increase will be funded by the state or by students themselves, Universities South Africa CEO Professor Ahmed Bawa told News24.
Universities South Africa is the representative body of all public universities in the country.
"We have actually taken a sector-wide approach to indicate that universities would need an 8% fee increase simply as a starting point to balance budgets," Bawa said.
"Universities will simply not be able to carry another 0% fee increase."
Bawa expressed concern over President Jacob Zuma's delay in releasing the Fees Commission report, saying it places universities at "severe financial risk".
Zuma received the report at the end of August and has been "studying" it ever since.
The University of Pretoria (UP), University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), Walter Sisulu University, Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT), and the University of Cape Town (UCT) have all previously indicated that they would wait for the release of the report before making any fee announcements.
Stellenbosch University, the University of the Free State (UFS) and Free State's Central University of Technology (CUT) have, however, all announced a "preliminary" fee increase of 8%.
"Universities cannot enter the 2018 financial year without some indication of what their budget will be," Bawa said.
He said universities were technically not required to wait until the release of the report to make fee announcements.
Over the past few weeks, several South African universities have had their academic programmes disrupted as protesting students raised concerns over possible fee increases.
At UFS, several students have been hospitalised and others arrested following violent clashes with security officials.
On Thursday, UCT was forced to suspend academic activity after roads were barricaded and classes disrupted.
The student representative councils (SRC) at Wits, UCT, Stellenbosch University and UFS have all called on Zuma to release the Fees Commission report, threatening "mass mobilisation" should there be further delays.
The representative body of South African SRCs, the South African Union of Students (SAUS), has also urged Zuma to release the report to avoid "dire implications during exams and [at] the commencement of the next academic year".
Following a march by a small group of students to Parliament on Wednesday, UCT's South African Students Congress announced its own march to Parliament next week Tuesday while the newly-elected EFF Wits SRC said it would march to the Union Buildings.
On Thursday, the special adviser to CPUT acting vice chancellor Chris Nhlapo, Octavia Mkhabela, said universities were "cautious" about making any fee announcement as the information might be misinterpreted.
"We would have loved to have [the Fees Commission Report] yesterday, because our ability to plan as an institution going forward in preparation for 2018 largely hinges on what that report contains," Mkhabela said.
CPUT's deputy vice chancellor Professor Anthony Staak said it was "difficult to predict what the reaction" from students to the report would be.
"In a sense, we are anticipating the worst, but we are putting in place measures to ensure we can get through the assessment period," he said.
Bawa said Universities South Africa met with new Higher Education Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize on Friday morning to ask that clarity be given on the report's release.
"All we need is some clarity from the Presidency on when the report will be released. All the Presidency needs to do is release a statement or something [saying] that the report will be released by this or that time."
While he acknowledged that it would be bad timing to release the report at this point in the academic year, he said the uncertainty was not helping matters, and added that if the president waited until November it would be too late.
Bawa speculated that the report's release was possibly being delayed due to its complexity.
Department of Higher Education communications director Madikwe Mabotha referred all enquiries to the Presidency.
Presidency spokesperson Bongani Ngqulunga did not respond to repeated requests for comment.