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NSFAS funding system flawed: Ex-Wits SRC head

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“The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) cannot provide for all students who qualify academically for tertiary education and the reality is that being intelligent is just not good enough if you are poor.”

This is the view of former Wits University SRC head, Shaeera Kalla, who responded to national government’s commitment of an additional R4.5bn to meet an NSFAS funding shortfall, taking its contributions towards student funding in the higher education sector above R6.5bn. R2.5bn of this will be used as a short-term relief to students who were unable to access government funding between 2013-2015 due to the shortfall. A further 2bn will be used to fund continuing students who are likely to join the NSFAS system for the coming academic year.

The decision follows nationwide student protests in October under the #FeesMustFall campaign, which demanded the country’s leadership drop proposed tuition fee hikes for the 2016 academic year, as well as takes steps towards clearing student debt and providing free education to all.

“I think the main of the FeesMustFall campaign were essentially a 0% increase as a symbolic commitment towards free education in South Africa. In South Africa you are either too rich for NSFAS or too poor for Eduloan, there is a missing middle,” explained Kalla, a representative of the Wits #FeesMustFall campaign.

While critical, Kalla said the additional funds would serve as a huge improvement from the situation prior to the protests. She noted that at the start of her term as SRC-president earlier this year, more than 2000 students were excluded from NSFAS because of the funding shortfall.

“While this is going to save more than 71 000 students it’s not a solution to the crisis, it is more a response to it,” she stated.

Amongst the criticism of NSFAS is that it is administered by universities themselves, many of which aren’t properly equipped to administer those funds. In addition the system has also been criticised for the fact that it issues only partial funding, with the rest expected to be personally paid out by the students.

“You’ll find that the partial funding at most can be R67 000. Basically your degree might cost R100 000 and you don’t know where you are going to get the rest of the money, but because you want to study you accept the offer. Come October you start getting outstanding fee messages and you have to start choosing between eating and paying those outstanding fees,” she highlighted, detailing the plight of many underprivileged students.

Despite the criticisms, in its 15 years the NSFAS system has funded more than 1.5m students across South Africa. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)

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