How important are student fees?

How important are student fees?

Armed with a wealth of recent financial data from South Africa’s higher education institutions, Stats SA unpacks the revenue mix for the country’s 20 universities and 6 universities of technology.

Higher education institutions depend mostly on government grants and tuitions fees for income, according to data from Stats SA’s latest Financial statistics of higher education institutions report. Of the R63 billion received as income by higher education institutions in 2015, 43% was sourced from government, 34% from tuition fees, 6% from donations and the remaining 17% from other sources, such as investments. Click on the image below to enlarge.


Take a moment to consider the blue slice in the graph above. All the discourse, all the protest, all the debate currently taking hold of the country; it’s all about this blue slice of R21 billion. 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.

Which institutions are most likely to feel the pinch if there is any change to the tuition fee structure? Unisa, Rhodes University and the University of Venda are the top three institutions that rely on tuition fees the most in percentage terms. In fact, almost half of Unisa’s financial resources are dependent on this source of income.


Notice how the new kids on the block – Sol Plaatje University, the University of Mpumalanga, and Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University – currently receive the bulk of their income from government grants? This is not surprising, as these three institutions were only established in the last two years and student enrolment figures are still at low levels.

The third most important source of income, donations, is not often explored. Higher education institutions received R4 billion in donations during the 2015 financial year, contributing 6% of total income.

Stellenbosch University received over a quarter of this amount, followed by the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the University of Cape Town. In fact, Stellenbosch’s financials show that donations to the institution contributed 26% to total income, slightly lower than the 28% contribution made by tuition fees.


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.

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