It was revealed today in Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Higher Education and Training that students owe Universities some R9 billion, consisting of debts that have accumulated over the years before fee-free Higher Education was introduced.
The students concerned are affected in multiple ways including some are not allowed to continue their studies even though they may be doing well academically; they are not given their results until the money is paid off; and some are not permitted to graduate because of debt.
This is a particularly painful experience for those who see that new students coming into Universities in years below them, who are beneficiaries of fee-free higher education and will probably never have to pay such enormous amounts of money in order to study.
The pressure from students to find a solution to this problem will not go away by itself and requires urgent intervention from the Minister of Higher Education and Training, Naledi Pandor.
The CEO of Universities South Africa, Dr Ahmed Bawa, pointed out to Members of Parliament today that most Universities do have systems in place to deal with the individual students who owe them. Many require students to sign acknowledgment of debt agreements before they are permitted to continue with their studies.
This does not, however, mean that the debts will actually be paid off, leaving Universities carrying millions of rands worth of debt on their already-strained books.
Minister Pandor needs to make clear that she will provide Universities and students with urgent assistance to deal with the debts they are carrying. The ANC’s fee-free higher education will not address the plight of senior students with sky-high debts and this matter therefore requires urgent attention from the Minister. With almost 10 million unemployed South Africans, this crisis will no doubt add to this growing number.