Be­tween a rock and a hard place

Pretoria News - - OPINION -

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.

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