‘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.”

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