South African Students Protest Tuition Hikes… Why Haven’t American Students Done The Same?

While scrolling through Twitter this morning, I came across the hashtag #FeesMustFall.  As it turns out South African students are protesting massive tuition hikes.  Now, this blog focuses on economic issues here in the United States, however, this event warrants mentioning given the unique parallels with the student loan and tuition situation in America.

Now, I am not that familiar with political trends in South Africa; I am vaguely aware that it is the home of the Krugerrand, vuvuzelas, and some vicious, albeit fictional diplomats and assassins. However, I did find out some of the background that led to massive protests.

The catalyst?  Tuition rates skyrocketed between 9-12% earlier this year.  While many argue that this is racially exclusionary, the bottom line is, students and parents are paying a lot more than they did in 2014.

Durban – Parents enrolling their children at university will have to fork out an extra 9 to 12 percent this year for tuition fees.

The university councils of three of the four universities in the province have confirmed the increases, with the Mangosuthu University of Technology increasing by 9 percent, Durban University of Technology by 10, and the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) by 12.

The University of Zululand has yet to determine its increase.

UKZN spokesman, Lesiba Seshoka, said the 12 percent increase was for tuition and accommodation fees.

“This follows a careful consideration of the social circumstances of our students and wider consultation with university stakeholders, he said.

“The fee adjustment has become necessary due to the rising cost of providing quality education not only in South Africa, but worldwide.”

A 12% increase on tuition is borderline insane, it dwarfs the increases we’ve had over here in the states, as tough as they have been on working class families and students.   I don’t ever recall noting a double-digit percent change in year-over-year tuition rates.  That being said, we have seen 5-year spans where tuition increased by more than 30%.   While the rate of increase hasn’t been as steep as South Africa has seen this year, it has far outpaced inflation while wages have flatlined.  American stakeholders have every right to be as angry as South African students are.

How angry have they become?  Some are going so far to refer to this as a ‘Campus Spring‘ (referencing the ‘Arab Spring’ protests a few years back)

“The… interesting fact is that we’ve seen students from other campuses unite on social media and now we’re seeing similar actions on other campuses around the country… [it] smells like Campus Spring,” the youth marketing company’s CEO Ronen Aires told News24. 

“We are seeing a lot more students participating in these protests than before. Students are using social media to co-ordinate, and the speed is similar [to the Arab Spring].

‘A form of revolution’

“This is a form of revolution where the students out of frustration are saying ‘no more’. This is not about overthrowing a regime like in the Arab Spring, but instead is about forcing those in power to listen.”

He said South Africa would look back at this as the time its students said “enough is enough”. 

“This [the wide-scale protests] is the extent they have to go to for people in power to listen.”

Students at most major institutions around the country protested on Wednesday against fee increases. 

In an alleged effort to stem some of the social media contact over the protests, some universities had reportedly turned off their wifi earlier in the week. 

Hundreds of protesting students from the University of Cape Town (UCT) and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) descended on Parliament in Cape Town on Wednesday for Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene‘s mid-term budget speech. 

After storming the gates of the Parliament precinct, they clashed with police. The police eventually fired stun grenades to push the crowd back.

Several protesters were arrested.

Nene’s budget speech was disrupted by EFF MPs chanting “Fees must fall”. They were eventually removed from the National Assembly. 

The speech carried on as normal while the clashes continued outside.

“Revolution” sounds a bit strong, but then again, these protests are getting pretty real.

Why haven’t our students in the United States done the same?  It’s not like they couldn’t pull it off…  South African students used social media to organize, even as the schools shut off their wi-fi.  If anything, American students are more adept at organizing massive action through social media.

So, why don’t they make this happen?

Millennials, especially those who have spent considerable time in school, seem to be less likely to challenge the status quo, and less likely to embrace conflict, perhaps a byproduct of an education system where conflict is generally frowned upon.

For millions of young Americans, the “education is the most powerful weapon” mantra has been drummed into their head since elementary school.  By the time they’ve reached high school, the idea that a college education is the only road to financial success has been so ingrained that it is tough to consider an alternate perspective.  After college, many find that the path they’ve taken may not provide the return on investment that they were expecting.

Student loans and grad school also enable students to stay in school longer, putting off the day of reckoning for loan payback until the amount due and payments become enormous.  After graduation, energy is spent finding full-time employment, part-time jobs, and ‘side hustles’ to pay the  balances down, rather than demanding change from a broken system.

American students should be protesting in front of schools and shutting down colleges.  In addition to rising tuition rates, they have had to deal with the fallout from the student loan crisis.  Every dollar that they are forced to contribute to Social Security is another dollar stolen from them that they will never see again.  Those who can afford real estate are stuck buying tiny condos, those who can’t are faced with rising rental prices, and millions of others are still stuck living with their parents.  They are going to work later into life than any previous generation, and politicians could care less when they object.  If anybody should be protesting and angry enough to hit the streets, it should be Millennials.  The question is, how long until they follow in the steps of their South African counterparts?

-R.J. Renza, Jr.

Please take a moment and sign the National Petition to Opt-Out of Social Security. The more signatures we gather, the more pressure we place on Congress and our political leaders.

August marked the release of my first e-book “How Are You Not Angry Yet: How Social Security is Destroying the Futures, Finances and Hopes of Generations X,Y and Z and How We Can Put and End to it.”  “Angry Yet” breaks down the complex topic of Social Security into a way that most Americans can easily understand and find entertaining and is available on Amazon right here.

I was recently mentioned by my favorite economic blogger Michael Shedlock in his post “Question To Millennials: Why Are You Not Mad As Hell Yet?”

I also appeared on The Debt Dialogues, the weekly podcast of “RooseveltCare” author Don Watkins:

Check out my video of how I celebrated Social Security’s 80th Birthday and What Social Security Does To Kids.

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