Wits task team devises plan to deal with student funding
Four key factors could spark student protests at South African universities early next year – registration payments‚ the funding shortfall‚ poorer students who don’t qualify for funding‚ and an increased number of people seeking admission. These were the findings of a task team set up by the University of the Witwatersrand vice-chancellor Adam Habib in response to students’ #FeesMustFall protests that started in October.The government’s commitment to make R4.5 billion available to deal with the funding shortage was described by Habib as “a phenomenal short term contribution”. This brings government’s additional contribution to just over R6.5 billion‚ he said in a statement on FridayThe team’s brief was to investigate and make recommendations on short-term student funding problems‚ Habib said.The problems that could lead to protests are: • Upfront fee or registration payments at the start of the 2016 academic year;• The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) shortfall made up of accumulated student debt accrued by students who qualified for loans but were either unfunded or underfunded because of insufficient funds from 2013 to 2015;• Financial problems faced by students - the “missing middle” - who do not qualify for NSFAS funding because their income is above the funding threshold; and• Increased demand for academic spaces by new first time entry students and those who dropped out for financial reasons.Various recommendations were made by the team. Among them was that R2.3 billion be made available to address the shortfall created by the zero fee increase in 2016.And students who meet the NSFAS criteria should not have to pay fee and registrations upfront. Students who can afford to pay will these fees will have to do so.The team also recommended that loans be made available to 71 753 students who were funded inadequately or were unable to access financial aid over the 2013 to 2015 academic years. This would amount to R2.543 billion. A further R2.039 billion is needed to ensure that unfunded continuing students receive NSFAS support in the 2016 academic year. The team said NSFAS should improve its administrative systems and universities must improve their communications with studentsIn addition‚ the rules for eligibility of students for funds must be applied consistently‚ and that continuing students who meet the criteria should be funded for their whole qualification.The team also said a new financing model‚ that includes the private banking sector and other businesses‚ should be developed during 2016 for the “missing middle” students.Habib is to announce members of a commission that will look at the introduction of free higher education for the children of the poor and the working class.