By Gaby Ndongo (5 mins read)
Of recently, it has come to some as a revelation that the sentence, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you”, in Mathew 7:7, does not apply to every student in South Africa’s tertiary education.
One amongst many circumstances is the fee-free higher education matter protested for during the 2015, 2016 and 2017 academic years.
The former president Jacob Zuma had announced in December 2017 that the government would fund the tuition fees of first-year students in 2018 and convert their NSFAS loans into bursaries, excluding those with household incomes of more than R350,000.
They are neither liable for NSFAS nor ‘able’ to settle their tuition fees and have been coined as the “missing middle”, with Wits University Vice-Chancellor Adam Habib describing the situation their involved in “a nationwide university debt crunch”, as stated by the Citizen.
This is however an oversimplification and a coin-approach to student financial exclusion, especially when one considers the various means of funding available to local students. The former ranges from bursaries and scholarships offered by tertiary institutions, commonly referred to as internal funding, or those tabled by companies and other forms of organisations.
Therefore, the problem is not of one not receiving funding from NSFAS, but an issue of students not being exposed to such alternative funding opportunities and of them not being proactive to seek such sources as well as meet the academic requirements of these funders.
The results are damaging when taking into account that these students will not be able to get any form of employment as their debt do not make them liable to formal certificates – rather, all that they receive are confirmation letters.
Letters that companies are not seeing as “a legitimate document” to confirm that one has finished her course, wrote a group of unemployed graduates from the Eastern Cape’s Walter Sisulu University (WSU).
For the former National Executive Member of the South African Union of Students, Chabana Chabana, who wrote in News24.com user-generated section MyNews24, “The manner in which these institutions are behaving towards their alumni is no different from loan sharks who would hold on to Identity documents and bank cards of their victims just so that they are condemned to perpetual poverty and debts.”
Simultaneously, returning students with debts have not also found any form of serene as they re-embark on yet again another financially exhausting year. The University of Johannesburg (UJ), amongst others, has tabled an option for its students to sign an Acknowledgement of Debt or AOD as it is commonly known.
In entering into this agreement, South African students will have to pay monthly debit orders over several months, demanding that all the necessary documents are submitted to allow for such monthly transactions.
According to UJ’s AOD Rules and Regulations, the documents are:
- A certified 1 Month bank statement (person responsible for the outstanding fees),
- Certified I.D copy of the bank account holder (person responsible for the outstanding fees),
- Certified I.D copy of the student, salary slip (if employed),
- Affidavit of informal income (if unemployed).
The terrain at UJ gets steeper if you are an international student. These students must pay an upfront of what they owe to the institution and the required 30% of the current year’s tuition fees before registering.
Despite refugee students having to only pay half of their tuition debt and then settling the other part through monthly debit orders, there is a need to ask: “Where will this group of people running away from unstable and poor situations in their countries accumulate the needed amount?”
The only source of funding a refugee student can obtain in South Africa is DAFI Scholarships, which sharply accepts a limited number of beneficiaries per annum. TOJ
Writing by Gaby Ndongo; Editing by Kupa Kambasha.
Gaby Ndongo is the Managing Editor of The Open Journal. He is currently doing his Honours degree in Journalism at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and a BA Journalism tutor at UJ.