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Cape Town - A recent News24 survey has indicated that the proportion of student funding the government gives to white, coloured and Indian students may be much larger than public opinion would suggest.
Some 40% of white applicants who participated in the survey said they had received government funding.
On Friday, News24 released the results of a survey we hosted asking for feedback on the government’s National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).
More than 1000 people filled in our survey, with the majority of respondents based in urban areas in Gauteng, Cape Town and KwaZulu-Natal.
In our sample, the spread of respondents based on race was largely proportionate with the demographic make-up of the country.
Of the 1125 respondents, 68.5% were black (709), 13.8% coloured (141), 12.8% white (130), and 4.6% Indian (46), while 0.4% were not born in South Africa.
Furthermore, the success-to-failure rate of their funding applications, within their respective races, was also quite close.
53.5% of black students were granted funding, while 41.4% of coloured applicants, 40% of white respondents and 31.1% of Indian applicants were also successful.
It begs the question: has the public’s general opinion of race-based student funding been unjustified?
News24 asked NSFAS spokesperson Kagisho Mamabolo to shed some light on the issue.
‘We don’t look at race’
“We don’t look at race, not at all. That’s not how the system works,” he said in Cape Town last week.
“We’ve got a number of students that are white that have been funded.”
Mamabolo said the role of NSFAS is to make sure they provide access to higher education for the disadvantaged, whoever they may be.
“To be previously disadvantaged, it does not mean you have to be black. We look at your previous circumstances and how they match our means test.
“Not having parents, for instance, is a disadvantage.”
His answer seems to be backed up by this sentiment from one white student in Gauteng whose funding request was granted in full.
“NSFAS gave me and my sister the chance to study when my dad passed away and my mom couldn’t support us,” he said.
“There is no discrimination based on my race and encourages me to study hard so that a part of the money I owe falls away!”
'I'm white and I don't qualify'
However, this was not the opinion of all white students who filled in our survey.
“I am white and therefore I don’t qualify. I think it is unfair because my parents work for the State. My twin sister also applied with no success,” said a male student from Mpumalanga.
Even students who received funding felt their race was still an issue.
“I felt they did not want to give me funding because I am white. They provided me funding for 3 years but not my last year for no apparent reason,” said another male student from KwaZulu-Natal.
“I did well academically and did not fail any subjects. However, without them I would not be a teacher today.”
What then may be a possible cause for the different experiences of students and the NSFAS system in different parts of the country?
News24 will publish the government’s full response to all the grievances highlighted by students in our survey tomorrow.
Number of applicant responses (1125), by race. The 'No' column represents those whose applications were unsuccessful.