Debt, COVID-19 financial woes threaten to end dreams of thousands of students

Many students are ineligible for NSFAS funding and Universities South Africa CEO Ahmed Bawa has said more help is needed for what is called the missing link.

Prospective students at the University of Wits on January 9, 2018. Photo: EWN

JOHANNESBURG – At a time when many have lost their parents to COVID-19 and breadwinners have been made redundant, Universities in South Africa have recognized that paying off outstanding debt would be a huge problem for students This year.

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni will unveil the government’s budget for this year on Wednesday, and the higher education sector is hoping there may be some relief for struggling students who cannot resume their studies this year. due to crippling financial charges.

Many students are ineligible for NSFAS funding and Universities South Africa CEO Ahmed Bawa has said more help is needed for what is called the missing link.

“It’s really up to the universities to try to figure out how to deal with the situation without accumulating billions and billions of rand in debt.”

At the University of Wits alone, the number of students who cannot enroll this year before they have paid off 50% of their debt has quadrupled from last year and now stands at over 8 000.

Students from various universities across the country have expressed their disappointment with Eyewitness News provided that their identity is not disclosed.

“I cannot pay the costs. My mother is a domestic worker. She cannot cover the unpaid costs. She was among the workers made redundant because of the pandemic.”

He is a postgraduate student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. She wants to continue her studies and obtain her master’s degree in social work to increase her chances of getting a job.

But now she has to find R25,000 to register.

She is the first and only one in her family to graduate – her siblings and mother are unemployed.

“I am very angry with the university. They are aware of the pandemic. It looks like they don’t understand the difficulty of being a black kid when your mother lost her job.”

This 80% average Wits undergraduate student also can’t register for her second year in dentistry because she owes R34,000 in unpaid fees. To register, she must pay 50% of this amount.

He was granted an extension to find the money, but that deadline expires on Monday.

“COVID-19 has affected everyone. It is impossible to have a sponsor. Most of my family has lost their jobs. If you apply for a loan, you don’t get approval. “

This education student from KwaZulu-Natal is R53,000 in the red. At this point, she wouldn’t even be able to cover the registration fee if she was lucky enough to have a sponsor to settle some of her unpaid debt.

“The government is unfair. Businesses got money, but when it comes to education, they don’t give us anything. It’s devastating.”

Her single mother is unemployed and the student is trying to find a job.

“Unfortunately, because of COVID-19 and being poor, I don’t stand a chance.”

This is the sad reality for many, like this student from Wits who is also unable to register for her second year of dentistry due to unpaid debts.

She needs at least 17,000 rand to resume her studies.

“The university is not compassionate. I feel like they can do better. Just give the students a chance. “

Many students turn to the NSFAS government scholarship program each year for financial support, but a large number do not receive assistance and find themselves trapped in the so-called missing middle category.

Bawa pleaded with the government to ensure the sustainability of higher education.

“We need to tell the Minister of Finance that we need to ensure that the current national student financial aid program is funded so that students who qualify for financial aid can continue their education. “

To add insult to injury, the Auditor General found that NSFAS mismanaged R500 million of its funding over the past financial cycle – money that could have funded more student education.

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