Protests over higher education funding raise questions over loan scheme
As protests over mandatory vaccines dominate student-led protests, the growing crisis over finance in higher education has also contributed to a difficult start to the academic year for some students.
JOHANNESBURG - As protests over mandatory vaccines dominate student-led protests, the growing crisis over finance in higher education has also contributed to a difficult start to the academic year for some students.
In recent years, the country has seen student-led demonstrations similar to the Fees Must Fall protest in 2016, which left a severe trust deficit between students, university leadership and the government.
In a commitment to prioritise and address the problems facing the sector, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande revealed earlier this year that R47 billion in student funding would be disbursed through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) to aid more than 700,000 students.
While last month, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana pumped an additional R32.6 billion into the scheme.
Over the years, students across South Africa have demonstrated over debt, staged a nationwide shutdown over registration fees, while some have even lost their lives.
With billions injected into the sector, department of higher education spokesperson, Ishmael Mnisi, said that the department was working towards developing an affordable and functioning loan scheme.
But with the pandemic pushing thousands, if not millions of South African households into poverty, one first-year student at the University of Johannesburg said that funding was more than an allowance, it was a lifeline.
"The allowance that I'm supposed to get, and hopefully will get, is my only lifeline at this moment because my parents are grant recipients and they're the only form of support that I have right now and I can't really depend on them. Every company right now is at the mercy of the pandemic. It's affected us financially, tremendously," he said.
While education has been receiving the lion’s share of the national budget for years, the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic dealt the sector a massive blow, with government reprioritising funds to combat the virus.
The pandemic has also increased the number of students needing financial aid, while some are buried in debt and this has raised the question of whether the current model is feasible.