“One of the biggest risks for universities is unpaid student fees, and this continued to rise in 2021. In 2011, student debt in the sector stood at R3.3bn and rose to R16.2bn in 2020.”
On average, students carrying debt upon graduation owe more than R30,000 each, he said.
Du Plessis said SU commits a substantial portion of its income — generated through state subsidies and student fees — to student bursaries every year, but the institution is experiencing increased financial strain as subsidy and fee income has come under pressure.
“Significant amounts of outstanding student debt exacerbate our concerns, since we cannot simply write off debt without the required reserves.”
Bruns said the fundraising office is doing what it can to alleviate student debt as part of the university’s Annual Fund, Bridge the Gap.
“The Annual Fund strives to remove the barriers to student success — barriers such as food insecurity, funding for feminine hygiene products and funding for students whose professions of choice require they have a driver’s licence. But the largest source of crisis for students is debt — outstanding accounts that could prevent registration and continuation of study and the ultimate stumbling block, debt on graduation.”
Funds are being raised for initiatives under the umbrella Bridge the Gap, among them #GradMe, #Action4Inclusion, #Zim4Zim and Caught in the Middle, which specifically look at alleviating student debt.
“For many students struggling under the burden of debt, graduation time is often bittersweet. These generous contributions from donors give them the opportunity to pursue professional careers without the shadow of financial stresses hanging over an otherwise bright future,” said Bruns.
Stellenbosch University conferred 5,629 qualifications at hybrid graduation ceremonies this week, including 677 master’s degrees, the most in 10 years.