File picture: Supplied

Durban – The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) should be turned into a grant if it was to work with education in alleviating poverty across the country, Equal Education general secretary Tshepo Motsepe said on Wednesday.

“As a loan, it creates a burden,” Motsepe told the commission on the feasibility of fee-free higher education sitting at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria.

Motsepe said it was not fair for black students to have to worry about making payments for their education when they enter the job market and have to deal with other historic debts.

“Though the interest levied is low, it shackles new graduates with too heavy a debt,” he said, adding that students who graduated from historically black universities already had serious burdens compared to those from historically white universities.

He said students from historically white universities had better chances of finding employment than those from black universities.

“Black students already have a burden of having to find a job, and face the pressure of having to pull their families out of poverty. And the added pressure of a loan repayment is far too much for young people to bear,” Motsepe said.

But commission chairperson Judge Jonathan Heher argued that having to pull families out of poverty was not a race issue.

“Though having to pull one’s family is classified as ‘black tax’, this really has nothing to do with race. Even a white or Indian student from a poor background wants to see their families out of poverty, so this is not a race thing,” Judge Heher said.

Nonetheless, he added that South Africa had an abundance of resources and the ability to deliver to millions of its people, and that it was not poor but mismanaged.

“There are billions lying in Seta accounts simply because the Department of Higher Education and Training did not use the funds. All we need are people who can think and come up with ideas on how to utilise the funds.”

Motsepe said poor students had to be prioritised in the endeavour for fee-free education in higher learning. He said the proposal included Technical and Vocational Education and Training colleges which accommodate millions of students but remain dysfunctional and underfunded.

Equal Education urged that “big corporates” must be made to contribute to the grant scheme.

The commission has reached set eight, which is the last stage of the public hearings. Spokesperson Musa Ndwandwe said the public hearings were expected to be concluded by the end of this month or the first week of April.

“After the public hearings begins the earnest task of compiling the report that will be presented to President Jacob Zuma in June,” Ndwandwe said.

The Mercury