NSFAS: National Student Failure Assistance Strategy

2017-02-21 10:11

Minister of Higher Education Dr Blunt Blade Nzimande announced a budget totalling to R15bn for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme. With the 2017 academic year in full swing in most universities problems all too familiar are starting to surface. NSFAS has approved over 309 788 applications for funding for the 2017 academic year, this according to NSFAS Chairperson Sizwe Nxasana who still believes a further 100 000 students can be funded. This would take the number of students funded to 400 000.

Getting access to an institution comes with four financial implications on each student which NSAFS seems to negate with the clear underfunding that is proposed for the ongoing academic year. The university protests that started in 2015 were directed towards the increasing tuition fees however the Fees Must Fall activists saw fees continue to increase which sets us up for further turmoil in University spaces. Accommodation the second financial implication is proving to be just as difficult to cope with as private home owners charge substantial amounts that even with funding would prove a stretch too far. Institutions that accept great number of students are experiencing increasing pressure to have more accommodation available on residences, Walter Sisulu University (WSU) and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) both Eastern Cape Universities are contending with an inability to house their students with historical debt playing a part in proceedings. Last year’s Shackville in University of Cape Town was foreshadowing the next crisis in higher education which is housing. Squatting has become a norm in most residences as students cannot keep up with the increasing accommodation prices, in some instances more than 6 student share a room designed for one.

The R15bn proposed would see each student get financial aid of up to R37 500 which in most universities will cover tuition costs but will fail to cover textbooks and groceries which are part of the NSFAS arrangement with students. Textbooks are part and parcel of what makes a successful graduate, something the proposed budget will fail to include which could see an intensified effort by student bodies to get the rest of society to see their plight under the failing Financial Aid Scheme. The conditions we subject our students to are proving to be our undoing.

Sparks of a protest waiting to happen have surfaced in DUT, UP over the same issues with NSFAS and the intuitions. Which saw evictions of students that didn’t seem to bother the greater good of society. A survey conducted by the department in 2015 ,50 public Technical and Vocational Education and Training colleges revealed that for the 710 000 college students, there were only 10 120 beds. This meaning colleges can only accommodate 1.4% of the students enrolled. National Government is yet to deal with ever increasing housing crisis and the students are feeling the full effects of governmental failures. The burden placed on students is the one that is seeing the ever increasing failure rate which is for the large part informed by the instability that is being a student in South Africa. A boom in higher education has only resulted in a humongous accommodation shortfall, with university management conceding that the situation has reached crisis levels.

The Acting National Police Commissioner Khomotso Phahlane says there is no truth to allegations brought up last year that police are specifically targeting student leaders to destabilize the Fees Must Fall protests. Despite his reassurances 567 people were arrested in 265 cases involving Fees Must Fall protests which shows the amount of attention police committed to the protests. EFF SC NMMU and Fees Must Fall activist Mpumzi Ndzonde believes the current higher education crisis is as a result of inadequate planning when it comes to key governmental sectors. “The student is a Guinea-pig for the current administration and we are tired of it, if no meaningful change can come we will bring it ourselves as this has gone on for far too long”. Mr Ndzonde also bemoaned the manner in which management and government is dealing with students who are bringing genuine grievances, commenting on the violence that marred the 2016 Fees Protests.

With registration still ongoing on other campuses, student political organizations are determined to take up from where they left off from last year. NSFAS is setting students up for failure and an uproar can be expected. Evictions have already started taking place on various campuses and the students are quickly losing their patience.

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