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Nationwide student funding woes hit Unisa

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The SRC Executive Committee at Unisa has made renewed calls for higher education to be provided for free in South Africa due to the ever increasing funding shortfall for tertiary education. Unisa SRC President Mduduzi Mabuza told that over two thousand students have been financially excluded at Unisa notwithstanding a 9 billion rand allocation from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme for University and TVET college students.

NSFAS provides funding for nearly 40 000 students at Unisa alone but this is far from adequate when one considers the number of poor students who are enrolled each year. One of the students rejected by NSFAS even though he appealed the decision is 3rd level Forensic Science and Technology student Tshepiso Ratau who expressed fears about completing her qualification in a reasonable period of time. “I doubt I’ll finish my degree in time because I must take only three courses this semester. I can’t pay for more.’’

The SRC President also expressed dissatisfaction at the way NSFAS is being administered. He confirmed that the SRC had received complaints from students regarding the high costs of contacting NSFAS directly as well as other inefficiencies during the pilot project where NSFAS funds are administered by NSFAS itself in the place of academic institutions. Unisa on the other hand speaks glowingly about the pilot project. In an e-mail reply to Unisa Director of Communication and Marketing Gerard Grobler said, ‘Good and positive progress has been achieved in implementation of the project which continues to improve. There are some systems challenges at NSFAS, for instance dealing with the large volume of applications received from Unisa students, signing of contracts by students, and the process to distribute allowances.’’ He added that Unisa commits a portion of its allocatable (sic) income for ‘topping up’ the NSFAS allocation, particularly in respect of students enrolled for Honours and Masters Degrees. It also emerged from Grobler’s answers to our questions that no money was made available made for historic debt loans in 2015.

The funding challenges are not unique to Unisa. Students at Tshwane University of Technology called off a three week strike following an intervention by their acting vice-chancellor. A campaign to raise funds for students facing financial exclusion by the SRC at Wits University has also made news. Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande has also launched a probe into NSFAS following reports of fraudulent activities at the scheme. The investigation will look into allegations of dishonesty by students applying for NSFSAS as well as falsified payouts by businesses that provide services to students that receive support from NSFAS.