Unmasking the ramifications of the fees-must-fall-conundrum in higher education institutions in South Africa: a critical perspective
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The purpose of this study was to explore the ramifications of the fees-must-fall-protests that rocked South Africa’s universities for a couple of months in the years 2015 and 2016. Using a critical perspective, the thesis of the study is that the shutting down of universities in the context of student protests was neither unique nor original to South Africa for it has been a preferred weapon of repression by dictators all over the world. Several post-independence African governments invoke this weapon many times to silence dissenting voices. The data to embellish arguments in this study were gathered through focus group discussion interview sessions (FGDIS) from 40 participants purposefully sampled from 26 South African universities. The analysis of data followed a thematic approach with themes emerging from the FGDIS forming the basis of the discussion of the findings. Chief among the findings was that despite the salutary role of student protests as a force for social change well-established and never being gainsaid, higher education fees needs to fall, albeit cautiously. The fees-must-fall protests raised an important consciousness of how challenging a colonised education system can lead to academic disruptions. The key conclusion drawn was that if tuition fees dry up as would be the case if a fee-free decolonised education policy were to be adopted prematurely, the country could suffer severe consequences such as inevitable budget cuts, compromised research standards, demoralised academics and curtailed university offerings. The recommendations made included a need for governmental commitment to calm the students’ temper tantrums before they spiral out of control and for curriculum decolonisation advocates to denounce the government’s repressive tendencies if a truly decolonised education system is to be realised.