Only teamwork can solve SA’s student funding crisis
With the government holding meetings and scrambling for money to fund the National Student Financial Aid Scheme and the student uprising at Wits University over financial exclusion, there is a dire need for collaborative work to bring in solutions.
On Tuesday, students at the university closed some roads and entrances to Wits demanding free education and to be allowed to register despite owing the institution.
By Wednesday, the stand-off between the students and police had led to the death of a student who was not a part of the protest but had been coming from a nearby clinic in Braamfontein. The student had been hit by a rubber bullet.
A statement released by student crowdfunding platform Feenix said the pandemic had left many struggling financially which, in turn, has meant that many university students are unable to settle their outstanding debt or pay their registration fees.
Feenix chief executive Leana de Beer said the economic dip had affected traditional sources of financial relief such as the NSFAS and other government funding, which supports approximately 40% of university students across South Africa.
Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande confirmed the NSFAS was in a financial crisis and scrambling for money to fund first year applicants. He said the R35 billion that had been set aside for the agency was depleting.
“Students who are unable to pay their university fees and are neither eligible for NSFAS funding or a student loan, have little recourse available to them and are at risk of being left behind. This is the last thing our economic prospects can afford,” said De Beer.
She said there was hope, however, that unconventional sources of student financing, like Feenix, could help to fill this gap and provide an alternative way for students to secure the funds they need to study.
“Feenix connects students who owe university fees with funder communities to assist them to fundraise for their student debt via an online crowdfunding platform. To date, about R71 million has been raised on the platform towards the student debt of more than 1 900 university students,” said De Beer.
De Beer said the NSFAS needed support.
“As is the case for many other government institutions, partnership agreements provide the advantage of accessing advanced systems, resources and a wealth of expertise all while ensuring a level of accountability,” she explained.
De Beer said one of the solutions was for the government to work with service providers that have a solid track record, coupled with transparent technology infrastructure to handle large scale payments for university fees, accommodation and other resources needed by students.
“Fundamental to this is to demonstrate the value that collaboration with the private sector can have in making a much bigger impact. More importantly, how it can achieve the overarching goal of creating a more democratised education system,” she said.