As NSFAS and its curators snooze through the tide…

2014-01-29 15:52

Ah yes, It’s usually ones onus to greet people before saying anything. So with that, I hope you all had a great festive season and hoping the year 2014 has started with great ease and refinement. Mine was not as eventful. It mostly consisted of wedding invitations, parties here and there, mounds of food enough to feed a mob, lots of sun and of course; one or two ‘cold drinks’ once in a while to make the balminess scamper off the brow. All in all, it was pristine.

Now that that’s out of the way, how about we jump straight into an issue that has been troubling me over the last few days. We have heard the news. Alles has hit the fan as the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) is struggling to clear debt in most universities around South Africa, and as usual, students are up in arms. As much as it is not a surprise that students are protesting, we might need to go over a few things that might shed some light into this whole issue.

NSFAS has been around for many years now, and has assisted thousands of students to gain tertiary education. For that, their efforts are commendable indeed. It is said their budget increases with each year, and they hope to put up structures that will see their budgets increasing even more with the coming years.

But now, I think NSFAS is missing the crucial point in all this and this coming back to bite them where it hurts the most. Corruption, especially in the top bureaus in the administration divisions is not a secret, and touching on that issue now would not be different from tossing a waterlogged loofa into the sea hoping it will dry. It can surely be a topic for another day.

The real issue at hand is how dilapidated, if I may use that word, their database is, such that some students go for almost eight to ten years on their system, yet with little to no progress at all on their part. Yes, I am talking of people who have been doing their national diplomas since 2006 or 2008. My question is how is that possible, and how come no one has touched on the issue to try and find out where the problem is? One might argue that maybe the students pass, and want to attain other qualifications. But I think eight to nine years is preposterous for a course that normally takes three years. From what I have personally experienced, in my years of studying at tertiary institutions, some students fail, then change programmes so that they can be funded and continue to stay on student residences. Some register for a course at the beginning of the year, then find jobs while still being funded by NSFAS, or other funders, but they don’t attend any classes and they continue to stay on residences so as not to pay rent.

From a glance, this looks like a minor issue, up until one takes into cognisance the fact that the flow of students into tertiary institutions does not stop with each year. New students want to come into universities, and many who are underprivileged also need funding just the same way as those who have been funded before. As we speak there are thousands of new students who just finished high school and are registering in universities. With these students who seem to have become more of ‘institutional monuments’ than people on the rise still enrolled in these ‘ten-year programmes’ they have crafted themselves, they continue to disadvantage others who also want a shot at tertiary education and empower themselves.

I personally don’t believe in failing, but in a situation where I continue to fail and not make an effort to pass all my subjects, I see no reason why any official body or funder should invest their time and money in me. A solution could be for NSFAS to restructure its commitments and regulations for students. At times people need to be driven or motivated for them to get somewhere. If NSFAS had a ‘fail and no funding’ rule, I doubt many students would still be doing their diplomas after six years. In no way would this be discouraging. I believe it will actually make students work harder and thrive for success in their studies.

NSFAS should really go back to the drafting table on this. As they always say, numbers don’t lie and in this particular situation, the numbers are ‘screaming’ towards the point that as long as they don’t have the right structures to recover their money, and be able to follow up on the students registered under their  portfolio, and how the students are progressing in their respective courses, they will always run short of funds and not be able to assist all those who need funding across the country.

Furthermore, they need to revise the word ‘poor’, because of late, many have come to misconstrue and misread what the word means. Do they do a complete through check of who deserves the funding? From my personal experience, some of the students I know who are funded by the programme come from well-off families, drive expensive cars and they guzzle from Monday to Friday until clubs and bars order more kegs for these ‘valued customers’. As much as fun, entertainment and pleasure is a concoction that comes with university lifestyle, I believe studying hard should be one of them too. At times money from funders and bursaries falls into the wrong hands, while those who need it the most are shown the door, and a swift snub of their dreams to attain tertiary education.

Lastly a message is in order to the students themselves. If you have been at university for the past seven, eight or nine years, and still doing the same subjects you are failling, or you are onto your ‘third diploma’, how about giving others a chance, buddy? I have always thought university is a platform where people grow and outdo their teenage days. If you really believe you need funding from your diploma up until your PhD, then so be it. But remember that out there, your brothers and sisters need the same opportunity you got when you first enrolled at a tertiary institution. They also need the support you received, in terms of funding. Snap out of it; study hard and pass your course and be on your way out of varsity foyers. Look for a job, work, and maybe you might be able to pay for your further studies like many grown-ups are doing. Supporting your family, kids and personal needs with bursary money won’t get you too far. In fact, I think it will draw you closer to being a ‘Res Father’ or ‘Res Mum’ pretty soon.

With that said, all the best this year, and I better not meet you in a student res next year, but in a company where I will come looking for your services. :)

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