Yesterday I made a submission to the Ministerial Committee for the Review of the Funding of Universities, chaired by Cyril Ramaphosa. The aim of the Committee is to review the university funding framework in its entirely and propose changes that would serve to accelerate the realization of the transformation goals for the university education system, among them improvements in teaching quality and progression rates and more equitable student access to higher education.
The DA Youth’s submission centered on two key areas that we believe must be addressed in order to realize the transformation goals and achieve real redress in higher education, namely access to and repayment of National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) loans and access to decent student accommodation.
The NSFAS was originally setup to assist with the realisation of the ideal of universal access to tertiary education by offering financial aid via loans and bursaries to deserving students. However, it has become clear that, with only 19% of NSFAS beneficiaries to date successfully graduating, the scheme has failed unequivocally to deliver on in its mandate in its 12 years of existence and it needs to be fundamentally overhauled.
Some key proposals regarding NSFAS I made to the committee today include:
- Allowing students to repay NSFAS loans through service to state on a year for year basis. This would assist cash strapped graduates with meeting loan repayment obligations, facilitate on the job training for inexperienced graduates, as well reinvigorate the ailing public sector with an influx of new skills.
- Conduct loan recovery through SARS to address the woefully low NSFAS loan recover rate, which is currently the second lowest recovery ratio globally among student financial aid schemes.
- Only charge interest when the student completes their studies, not from 1 April of the year in which the loan is granted.
- Link the loan to bursary conversion ratio directly to academic performance to encourage the pursuit of academic excellence.
As well as obtaining access to funds to pursue the desired field of study, an issue almost equal in relevance to a student’s success is access to accommodation facilities. The bulk of students in today’s tertiary education system come from previously disadvantaged backgrounds and do not have the means to materially support themselves whilst studying.
Despite this, there are only 107 598 beds available for the approximately 535 000 learners currently enrolled in South Africa’s 22 residential universities.
A student cannot be expected to perform academically if they do not have a safe space in which to live whilst completing their studies. At present NSFAS loans also do not cover food for many students, leaving them hungry. The severity of this problem has been illustrated by stories of desperate students resorting to prostitution simply in order to afford food.
Some key submissions made to the committee regarding access to decent student accommodation include:
- Explore public-private partnerships for building and managing residence infrastructure. This will have the dual benefit of both reducing the massive cost to the state of building residences, as well as increase the capacity of universities to meet the student housing demand.
- Standardise the NSFAS accommodation package rate so that students pay similar fees across all institutions and the NSFAS accommodation subsidy is therefore guaranteed to cover a core minimum of services.
- Expand the range of NSFAS funding for accommodation to 70% of students on previously disadvantaged campuses where alternative accommodation is generally unavailable.
- Enforce a minimum standards code for student housing in terms of elements such as room size, security and access to sanitation and catering facilities to address the quality crisis in student residences, many of which are deemed unfit for human habitation.
The submissions made by the DA Youth to the committee today are driven by the desperation of students, for many of whom violence has become a way of life as they resort to physical protest against the failings of NSFAS. The DA Youth believes that, if seriously addressed, the proposed reforms we have made to the Committee would significantly boost the government’s ability to provide access to quality tertiary education to all South Africans.
DA Youth Federal Chairperson
072 118 8556
DA Youth Director
072 232 0127