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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

versión On-line ISSN 2224-7912
versión impresa ISSN 0041-4751


SMIT, Flip. The nature, essence and role of the South African universities in a developing country. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2016, vol.56, n.4-1, pp.887-904. ISSN 2224-7912.

Student protests, which originated with the Rhodes Must Fall campaign (#RhodesMustFall), spread to Fees Must Fall (#FeesMustFall) and free tertiary education. It highlighted the deficiencies in the current educational system, shaking it at its very foundations. This has altered the institutions forever. Authorities at universities complied with most of the demands in an attempt to halt the vandalism and disruptions, and vice-chancellors made promises of transformation. The required increase of over 10% in tuition fees for the 2016 academic year was "nullified" to 0% by President Zuma, with the undertaking that the government would be accountable for the increase. This promise was not upheld and universities had to contribute R395 million from their trust funds. Another matter - that of insourcing of contract workers - will add an additional burden of several million rand to their remuneration expense. Technically speaking, some of the universities are already bankrupt. As a consequence, a presidential commission was appointed to investigate the financing of universities and the feasibility of free tertiary education. It is possible that tuition fees may never again be increased. Mass higher education is a global phenomenon and universities are struggling to accommodate larger numbers of students with less financial support. The worldwide economic collapse after 2008 forced governments drastically to curtail their financial contributions to higher education. Consequently, universities had to restructure. Realising that universities could not be everything to everyone, the focus need to shift to areas of excellence within a specific region or country. In South Africa mass higher education hit the country like a tsunami: in less than 20 years the student numbers have doubled. The racial composition of student numbers has also changed drastically. The proportion ofwhite students has decreased from 90% in 1960 to 17% at present, whereas the proportion of black students has risen to more than 70%. Because government's funding has not kept up with the rapid growth in student numbers, it necessitated the drastic increase in tuition fees, which now account for 33% of universities' budgets. Sustained pressure is being exerted to accommodate even more students, especially black students. The nature and essence of universities have been seriously affected. Of the South African universities, a number aspire to higher positions on the world ranking; however, high student-lecturer ratios are preventing them from reaching higher scores. In terms of education and research, the focus in developing countries should be primarily on solving local problems. With sustained pressure to admit more students, to operate with less government funding and to comply with transformation demands, universities are facing a very uncertain future. Academics, exercising their right to academic freedom, are encouraged to adopt a scientific approach to resist these destructive processes.

Palabras clave : Universities; student protests; mass higher education; tuition fees; autonomy; transformation; subsidy; teaching; research; ranking; academic freedom.

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