Education experts have predicted that there will be more student protests over university tuition fees in South Africa in the 2017 academic year.

One academic, Professor Brian O’Connell, says the promise of free education has lingered in the minds of students around the country and they are unlikely to back down until this promise is fulfilled.

This year has been one filled with upheaval on the education front, especially in Western Cape Province, with the “Fees-Must-Fall’ protests at institutions of Higher learning.

Prof O’Connell, who carries the weight and knowledge of a career of more than four decades in education, says: “No one is entitled to anything. But the promises were made to them and they were waiting for the promises to manifest and it hasn’t done that.”

For a second year in a row, students at universities in Western Cape Proovince went on the rampage in 2016. Protests erupted in September soon after Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande announced a new fee structure.

Students receiving support from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and students from homes where the income is less than 600,000 Rand (about 42,850 US dollars) a year will not see an increase in student aid for a second year running, but those falling outside that category can expect an increase of a maximum 8.0 per cent in aid.

A retired University of the Western Cape (UWC) vice-chancellor and respected academic, Prof O’Connell predicts that more of the same is inevitable in 2017.

He says the students accomplished nothing in the last two years as they not only asked for a zero per cent fee increase, but for free tertiary education as well.

“So, what do the kids do now? They follow the same pattern that we followed when we went up against apartheid in the 1980s and the 1990s. And that pattern is the engagements becomes hostile; we start marching, gathering; we start fighting and we start burning. So, the same thing that happened in (the fight against) apartheid is actually happening here, now. And the leaders are not going to walk away from this,” he predicts.

Prof O’Connell says engagements between universities, student leaders and the national government which can work towards a solution to the problem are still absent. South Africa, he notes, does not have the resources or the money to sustain free education.

“This is a national problem. It’s a problem of what this nation wishes to become. We must make the sacrifices and put the money there. But if you say to just take the money away from the people who are expecting they are going to get a house, then they start with the marching and the burning. And so, we don’t have a understanding of what the fiscus can afford and where must the money go.”

Stellenbosch University near Cape Town is the only university which completed all its end-of-year examinations in 2016 without additional exams scheduled for the new year. Exams at UWC, Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) and University of Cape Town were also completed peacefully, but students were given the option to either write in November or defer their exams to January 2017.

All four universities followed the minister’s new fee structure and announced an 8.0 per cent increase for students from households with an annual income above 600,000 Rand. Fees will not increase for students from households with incomes below R600,000 a year.

A Commission of Inquiry into the feasibility of free higher education in the country has been set up and is expected to give a full report on its findings in mid-2017.