Between a rock and a hard place
THE 2020 academic year at universities across the country looks set to be disrupted as unions representing students and the Higher Education Department remain at loggerheads over student demands.
One of the stumbling blocks is a demand from the South African Union of Students for the allocation of a debt relief fund for the clearance of student debts. Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande has said that while the department had provided significant funding towards the eradication of historical debt for National Student Financial Aid Scheme-qualifying students, non-NSFAS students would not have their debt scrapped.
In a statement last week, Nzimande said: “I am aware that there is significant student debt within the university system owed by students who are not NSFAS beneficiaries. Unfortunately, public funds for the university system are constrained and there is no possibility that debts of students who are not NSFAS qualifying can be eradicated by the government.”
Students have pointed out that Nzimande’s stance contradicts the promise made by former president Jacob Zuma in 2017 when he announced free education for people with a household income of less than R350000.
The “missing middle” in fact are now expected to pay considerably more for their tertiary studies. Nzimande finds himself between a rock and a hard place.
On the one hand, the government cannot bear the financial burden of writing off historical debt, while on the other, students are struggling with the high cost of university education.