The University of the Witswatersrand’s Student Representative Council’s General-Secretary Fasiha Hassan says they hope that more money will be allocated to education when the Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan tables his budget speech on Wednesday.

Funding remains one of the challenges that the higher education sector faces. This is also what led to student protests across South African tertiary institutions against fee hikes in 2016.

“We are hoping firstly that more money will be allocated, to see how exactly they are going to fund the 0% fee increase, they have not been too specific in that.”

Hassan says the Minister needs to also elaborate more on what the government is doing to ensure free higher education for the poor.

“We also want some form of timeline on free education. Yes it is a budget speech, but we need to know that some money is coming into it, some money is being put into this project.”

Although government continues to allocate more money into the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) more still needs to be done according to Hassan.

“As much as the students want tuition funding and getting into the system, they also want accommodation funding. They need food; they also need to cover their living expenses. Perhaps now one of the most talked about issues and one of the most stressed thing is the financial element which includes academics, stationery and all of that.”

There is an accommodation crisis in higher education

Accommodation in higher education institutions has also come in the spotlight after University of Cape Town students went on a rampage last week demanding more room.

“There is an accommodation crisis in higher education, there is just not enough of it, we need to hear whether that budget allocation is going to cover that, if at all.” Hassan says the NSFAS needs to re-model its selection criteria to suite students that come from the middle class families. She says it is unfair of NSFAS to decline assisting these kinds of students. “It is highly problematic and in many ways abusive to students, there is a lot of issues where students will come in and say hey I have handed all the documentation that is required, when they make a follow up, it has been lost by the department or by the NSFAS office, that is just one example. NSFAS itself is highly problematic, the few that are called the missing middle, are not the middle class students, this is very important to note. They are a no income earning group who should be qualifying for government funding, but because of the way the NSFAS system is set-up, with the means test is not able to. We are talking about numbers like R150 000 per annum household income before tax, so if tuition and accommodation cost over a R100 000 alone, that excludes textbook and stationery, how in the world will someone who has a number of dependents, usually 5 or 6, is going to be able to afford higher education for one child. It is not possible.”
Click below to listen to Hassan:

Education Specialist at the South African Institute of Race Relations Thuthukani Ndebele agrees that the NSFAS model needs to be reviewed. “Also remember that it is also not an isolated issue, it brings us back to the quality of the students that you are spending money on because one concerning factor is that for example NSFAS will say we are going to fund Thuthukani to do his BSC and then the next thing Thuthukani drops out at first year, it means that if I was to pay back the money to NSFAS, I am not going to be able to do that because I have already dropped out. The head of NSFAS Sizwe Nxasana said it at some point that part of his challenge is that he has to try and recoup most of the money that was paid out to students and they graduated and never paid it back.” Ndebele says compared to other countries, South Africa is spending more money towards education. He says the focus should be more on how the money is spent. “When we look at funding as a major challenge that students face, when we talk about how much money is required and how much money can we really spend, we must realise that it is not only about the amount of money that is being spent, it is more about how the money is spent, first of all if you want to really see whether we are spending enough money or not, let us talk about public spending as a proportion of the GDP, and you compare that with other countries, you have about 6.2% of the GDP, SA’s GDP going toward education and to give you a comparison – the US spends about 5.2% of its GDP. SA spends a total of 19% of government spending towards education and the US spends 13% , that gives you an idea that we do not actually spend little on education but the worrying part is how is it that the money is being spent.” According to Ndebele there has to be more accountability in this regard, Hassan shares the same sentiment. “We need to address the maladministration thereof, so if documents are lost and a student is rejected on that basis, what do we do about that? The entire system needs to be under review and there needs to be legal penalties, if money goes missing, that person needs to be penalised by the law.”
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– By Lerato Matlala