If #FeesMustFall succeeds, which universities would be the worst hit?

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With #FeesMustFall an ongoing and contentious topic in South Africa, it’s helpful to get a bit of perspective on exactly how higher education in South Africa is funded, so that stakeholders are able to carve a beneficial way to solve the issue.

Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) today released timely research on the sources of funding for all 26 public universities last year.

Last year saw almost one million students enrolling in universities, the highest being at Unisa (337 944) and the least enrolling at newly opened Northern Cape institution, Sol Plaatje University.

Higher education received R63.1 billion in funding in 2015 and spent R54.1 billion on operations.


Of the funding received for higher education, R21.5 billion came from tuition fees, with Unisa, the University of Pretoria, Wits University and the University of Cape Town bringing in the most fees last year.

Altogether, tuition fees accounted for 34/1% of funding for all universities last year.

With regards to funding from government, which is the hottest bone of contention surrounding #FeesMustFall at the moment, R26.8 billion was taken from state coffers to fund higher education last year, up from just over R25 billion in 2014.

Wits received the most funding from government at R2.25 billion, followed closely by Unisa at R2.23 billion and the University of Pretoria at R2.1 billion.

From 2006 to 2015, grants by national government to universities increased by 144%.

Donations accounted for R4 billion in funding, with Stellenbosch University in the Western Cape receiving the most donations at R1.1 billion and the University of KwaZulu-Natal receiving the second highest amount of donations at R972 million.

UCT spent the most on bursaries, awarding R510 million worth to students last year, followed by Stellenbosch awarding the second highest amount in bursaries (R403 million).

Which universities would feel the pinch the most if #FeesMustFall succeeds?

“If tuition fees are ever done away with completely, both government and higher education institutions will have the difficult task of finding another way to finance this amount. Alternatively, tough decisions on expenditure would need to be made, with increased efficiency the key to reducing costs,” StatsSA said.

Should tuition fees be done away with completely, as is the aim with #FeesMustFall protests, Unisa, Rhodes University and the University of Venda are the top three institutions which would be the most affected as they receive most of their funding from tuition, as illustrated in the table below.

“All of the above shows how each institution has its own unique revenue mix. This is an important fact to consider if the country decides to change the way tertiary education is financed. Any alterations to the funding model would see different responses based on the particular financial make-up of each institution,” StatsSA concluded.