‘Rising student debt, turmoil at varsities a problem’
PRESIDENT Cyril Ramaphosa said yesterday the issues of “the missing middle” and rising student debt were still a problem.
Despite this, Ramaphosa said they would continue to provide billions of rand to students at universities.
However, he said the turmoil engulfing universities at the start of each year was a serious issue.
There were many young people who faced the challenge of not being re-admitted each year for a number of reasons, he said.
One of the reasons was the question of the student debt.
“We have moved mountains and seas to ensure that young people get free education. A few years ago we used to spend R12 billion to support NSFAS. It is now R30bn. We are not letting up on this,” said Ramaphosa when addressing Sanef and parliamentary journalists at Tuynhuis.
He said funding for students would continue to rise each year, but the problem was the missing middle and those with debt.
Ramaphosa also said they needed to focus on this because these were the challenges students faced and this led to their frustration. “This leads to the burning of universities,” he said.
Universities were owed a lot of money by students, but that has come down since the government pumped more money into NSFAS.
He emphasised the need to focus on the pass rate of the people they were funding.
Speaking during a debate in the National Assembly, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said the ANC government was proud that it would be spending R35bn in 2020 through NSFAS and would support over 700 000 students in both universities and TVET colleges.
“All NSFAS qualifying students do not have to pay any upfront registration fees and if they have debt they do not have to pay upfront but only have to sign acknowledgement of debt.
“In 2017 and 2018 we also provided support to poor and missing middle students through the fee adjustment or ‘gap’ grant for students in the family income category of up to R600 000,” he said.
Nzimande heaped praise on NSFAS for processing for the first time applications at the beginning of this year through their “myNSFAS” accounts.
He said his department had worked with tertiary institutions to address the specific problems and challenges experienced at institutions.
“We wish to particularly condemn violence and destruction that accompanied some of these protests. No matter how legitimate the complaints are, let’s protect property and life in our institutions,” Nzimande said.
Earlier, the higher education portfolio committee was briefed by some universities that were embroiled in student protests over registration and accommodation.
They briefed the MPs on how they each handled the student demands.
University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) vice-chancellor Professor Nana Poku told the MPs that the protests resulted in R31m damage to property this year.
UKZN chief finance officer Nontuthuko Mbhele said at the heart of the violent protests had been a key demand for financial clearance concessions. “In the main, students demanded all students from households below R350 000 should be registered without making payments for registration fees and towards their debt,” Mbhele said.
She told the MPs that debt at UKZN had grown from R600m recorded in 2010 to R1.7bn at the end of last year.
Mbhele also said the financial concession made by the university to student demands meant that the university had foregone in excess of R1bn debt during registration.
University of Fort Hare chief financial officer Nielesh Ravgee said the institution’s student debt had increased from R323m in 2015 to R639m. “If we do not recover fees, it has a major impact on cash flow and our budget.”