The free education plan that is expected to come into full effect this year was another major victory for the Fees Must Fall movement. Since 2015, students across the country have been calling for the decommodification of tertiary education, a gateway out of poverty for many South African citizens. In spite of some gains, for now, there is no plan by the higher education department (or any other government department) for a way to deal with debt already incurred by students.
The movement called for the removal of registration fees, consideration for the missing middle (those too wealthy for the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and too poor to pay fees), and removing historical debt along with the scrapping of tuition fees. The Fees Must Fall movementâ€™s demands were incrementally acceded to.
Registration fees were scrapped at some tertiary institutions like University of the Western Cape, and NSFAS received more than R2 billion as a provision to cover the historical debt owed by students whoâ€™d been financed by the scheme.
President Jacob Zumaâ€™s resolutions briefly touched on the issue of historical debt but didnâ€™t provide any tangible resolutions. â€œ… due to its [historical debt] complexity will be dealt with by the minister of higher education and training after due diligence has been undertaken by the department of higher education and training; department of planning, monitoring and evaluation and the national treasury to determine the quantum of funding required,â€ read the statement.
Weâ€™re in the second week of 2018 and, according to the department of higher education and training chief director of communication Madikwe Mabotha, the various departments and treasury have yet to meet to discuss historical debt. Mabotha said in an interview with The Daily Vox the meeting will deliberate a plan forward. â€œDue diligence and affordability studies will be undertaken to determine the quantum of funding required to address the debt owed by students to NSFAS and institutions,â€ he said.
Returning students who owe money to NSFAS for 2016 and 2017 are also concerned if the debt will hinder them from registering. Mabotha said they will be assisted by NSFAS. â€œYou will be supported to register and continue your studies from 2018 onwards through bursary funding [that] will not have to be repaid,â€ he said. However, the past loans at this time will not be converted into bursaries he said.
NSFAS had not responded to questions by the time of publishing.
Feature Image by Ra’eesa Pather