The #FeesMustFall Protests – an Institutional Advancement Perspective

By Inyathelo Programme Co-ordinator Khairoonisa Foflonker

History will remember them as the generation who would no longer be quiet. The generation that will no longer be excluded. The generation who said, “so far and no further”, and who led when there was no leadership to be found. They occupied Nelson Mandela Bridge. They shut down universities. They marched on Luthuli House and Parliament, and to the doors of the institutions that had failed them. From the inside of prison cells they took this country by the shoulders and they shook it. They marched for education, for change, and for each other.” Mail and Guardian, October 23 – 29, 2015.

The #FeesMustFall Protests – an Institutional Advancement Perspective

The last two weeks have given rise to unprecedented student protest action that swept across the nation, uniting students and communities across racial, economic and political lines. Students have admirably rejected attempts by political parties to hijack their #FeesMustFall protest. What has become clear over the past ten days, is that this movement is not just a cry for free or affordable education. At the very heart of student demands are the very complex issues that continue to hamper transformation of our higher education institutions, particularly those that that have their origins in white privilege and black exclusion.

Issues related to the socio-economic transformation and calls for decolonisation (through curriculum change including African scholarship, as well as the appointment of black academics and mentoring, etc.) of institutions of higher learning have been bubbling under the surface since 1994 and erupted with the #RhodesMustFall Movement earlier this year; but have not been adequately addressed. The vicious cycle of debt and unemployment also needs to be considered. Students who are unable to pay for their tuition in full face academic exclusion and some are prevented from receiving their certificates until their fees are settled. This translates into increased student debt. The inability to provide certification proving their academic qualifications prevents them from entering the workforce, making loan repayments impossible. Spiralling debt ensues.

Inyathelo was due to host our annual Vice Chancellors’ Leadership Retreat this week. Ironically, the theme of this year’s gathering was entitled Strategies in fast changing societies: How do universities adapt (or die?). Most of the planned discussions were focused on transformation and how institutional Advancement could be used as a vehicle for change.

Inyathelo’s role has been to provide higher education institutions and civil society organisations with training and technical support in order to strengthen their financial sustainability Inyathelo has always advocated that universities position themselves for investment by building strategic relationships, diversify their funding streams, growing endowments and decreasing their reliance on state funding. We believe this sort of institutional Advancement is part of a sustainable solution to the very complex circumstances universities now find themselves in. The systematic and integrated approach to building and managing relationships with key constituencies in order to attract financial as well as stakeholder support will go a long way to assist with transformation initiatives.