Zimbabwean students studying at South African universities are breathing a sigh of relief after President Jacob Zuma ruled out any increase in tuition fees for next year.
The announcement followed a week of protests by university students over proposals to increase tuition fees for the 2015/2016 academic year.
South African universities had been pushing for an 11,5 percent hike in fees; but critics argued that this would have made university education a preserve for the elite.
University administrations had, however, justified the fee increases on grounds of rising operational costs.
Home to some of the best learning institutions in the world, South Africa boasts of universities such as the University of Cape Town (UCT), University of the Witwatersrand, University of Pretoria (UP), University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and University of Johannesburg, among many others.
Many Zimbabwean students have turned to these universities to pursue their studies.
According to the proposed fees schedules for the 2015/2016 academic year, fees at UCT would have increased to R69 000 (US$5 245) from R46 000 (US$3 496), UKZN from R45 860 (US$3 486) to R68 790 (US$5 229), UP from R30 500 (US$2 318) to R45 840 (US$3 484) and University of Free State from R26 015 (US$1 977) to R39 025 (US$2 966).
Zimbabwean students based in South Africa who spoke to the Financial Gazette said the neighbouring country offers an advanced learning environment, commensurate with the high fees they had to fork out.
“The zero percent cap is a great relief for most parents and guardians of Zimbabwean students in South Africa as our total expenses are almost double what locals pay, but in the long run it really isn’t much as tertiary education is still very expensive for the majority of Zimbabwean students,” said Nathan Khumalo, a third-year media student at UKZN.
University education is subsidised for South Africans, with international students, not on scholarship, required to pay full tuition fees at registration for each academic semester.
“Our fees range between R30 000 (US$2 280) to R45 000 (US$3 400) for a three-year degree programme and international students then pay a levy of about R4 000 (US$300) plus rent of about R25 000 (US$1 900) a year. Also bear in mind that some international students have to pay all their fees upon registration,” added Khumalo.
It is, however, understood that foreign students also participated in the #feesmustfall protests, which swept across South African campuses last week, disregarding the terms of their student permits.
Pretty Nxumalo, a first-year sports and leisure student at UP, said there had been no justification to the foiled fees increase and the issue had found common ground among foreign and local students.
“I definitely agree with the zero percent increase because the rate of inflation is half the rate of fee increase, so it means that university fees were about to rise at a faster pace than inflation,” she said.
Nxumalo said it was common practice that South Africans with lower qualifications were accepted into the institution, which is not the case with foreign students.
“Their system is structured in such a way that it makes it difficult for foreigners to do anything, like registration and tuition and so they aren’t really as accommodating to outsiders,” she said.
United Kingdom-based political analyst, Alex Magaisa, said the #feesmustfall campaign which had gripped South Africa was a coming of age of sorts for that country’s student movement.
“In a nutshell, the young men and women at universities and colleges begin to see the bigger picture, far beyond their enclaves, the little villages and towns in which they grew up. They begin to see the inequalities and injustices of the system, both at the national and international levels and they are outraged by what they learn,” he said.
“They are no longer just adding figures or constructing sentences, but learning the ways of the world. In short, they make an important discovery of their historic role in society and begin to call themselves the ‘Voice of the Voiceless’, often wearing apparel declaring the same.”