Students owe South African universities as much as R4 billion in unpaid fees and residence expenses.
This is according to the DA, citing admission from the Department of Higher Education and Training.
In October, president Jacob Zuma announced a zero percent fees increase for 2016, translating into a multi-billion rand shortfall for universities across the country.
Prof Belinda Bozzoli, DA Shadow Minister of Higher Education and Training, said that the shortfall for 2016 amounts to R2.3 billion, while universities are also struggling to recoup R5 billion in NSFAS loans for 2015 alone.
The NSFAS allocated over R9 billion for financial aid at tertiary institutions in 2014 – a figure which increased to R9.5 billion in 2015. The fund’s main source of income is government departments and state institutions, and it gives financial aid to close to half a million students.
“These astronomical figures speak to the chronic underfunding of the higher education system and NSFAS,” said Bozzoli.
As Universities are forced to increase fees in the light of shrinking government subsidies, they are placing a greater burden on students who are simply not able to afford it, the DA said.
It noted that NSFAS is already only able to fund roughly half of the students who qualify for funding. This excludes those from the so-called “missing middle” – students who are too “well-off” to qualify for NSFAS loans, but who are nevertheless from underprivileged backgrounds.
“These are the students that have been left behind, unable to pay for their studies, while President Zuma’s administration wastes billions on unnecessary luxury expenses, such as the planned R4 billion jet he is yet to denounce,” Bozzoli said.
New student protests in 2016
According to the DA, SRC Presidents and other student representatives told Parliament on Thursday, that they were extremely concerned about the high likelihood that widespread student protests will flare up again as soon as Universities open next year.
This is a direct result of the failure of Zuma government to address the crisis with a plausible long-term plan rather than a series of short term fixes.
The student leaders said that the high levels of student debt, leading to the inability of thousands of students to register, would be the most likely trigger for these protests.
The DA called on Minister Blade Nzimande and the Presidential task team to address the problem of student debt, particularly debt to universities, urgently.
“The DA is seriously concerned that government inaction in this crisis could destabilise the entire education system in the New Year, and contribute to the progressive instability of the country as a whole.”