Prof Jansen: You can’t erase about R13 billion of student debt out of the air

Professor Jonathan Jansen said it was important that everyone paid back their student debt once they started getting an income so that others could also go to school.

Protest action by students in the Braamfontein Precinct. Jorrisen, Bertha & De Korte Str affected. Picture: @JoburgMPD/Twitter.

JOHANNESBURG – Can universities across South Africa afford to erase student debt?

Education expert Professor Jonathan Jansen has on Monday outlined the high academic cost of erasing student debt.

Universities across the country resumed classes last week but many students impacted by the pandemic are now caught in a debt trap.

Student leaders met with different university vice chancellors over the weekend to negotiate a way forward. They are calling for free education, the scrapping of historical debt and for no fee increment for the 2021 academic year.

The meetings were unsuccessful and students called for a national shutdown of institutions on Monday.

“As the economy stands, mainly because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I mean I don’t know what these student leaders are thinking. You can’t just erase R9 to R13 billion out of the air. This calls for a major re-thinking of the national budget.” Jansen said.

Meanwhile, UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said the university set aside around R30 million to assist eligible students with historic debt this year.

“What some institutions are doing - letting some register with outstanding debt or extending the registration dates is putting a patch on the sore, that is not solving the problem. We need a systemic resolution of this problem.” Jansen argued.

He stressed the importance of government and vice chancellors figuring out the national budget.

“There’s no way that our government, being in the market to fund the vaccine, can fully bailout the national student debt. What it can do is pay off half of the debt.”

The professor suggested that authorities take half of the debt and divide it proportionally to the 26 public universities over the next five years.

“That immediately assures a vice chancellor and their team that they will get that money. They know that they’ll never get the full money, ever, from students despite what they do.”

The education expert is adamant that debt can’t be lifted now because they will have the same problem in 10 years.

He said it’s important that everyone paid back their student debt once they started getting an income so that others could also go to school.

“The biggest danger is this notion that like in many municipalities, a culture of non-payment. The 'everything is free' notion is going to sink us as a country. It’s important for students as they get jobs, that they are part of a system, which makes it possible for other poor students to get an education,” Jansen added.

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