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Friday, January 21, 2022

Students warn government to remove income-contingency loans from the funding model

Thabo Mohlala

The government’s final position on the recently released Fees Commission report will determine how students will respond, come next year.

This is what Inside Education established after it spoke with an Economic Freedom Fighter Student Command (EFFSC) representative and a #FeesMustFall activist. But EFFSC might not wait for the final decision as it is already threatening to mobilise its student support to protest against the commission’s recommendation.

Koketso Poho, Economic Freedom Fighter’s chairperson at Wits University said the commission’s report falls short of meeting their demands. He said they would be meeting over this coming weekend to chart a way forward.

Poho said the commission did not say anything about their demands for free education for all and decolonisation of the tertiary curriculum. He said they were particularly unhappy about the commission recommendations on “Income-Contingency Loans” (ICL), saying the loan scheme is worse than National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), which the commission recommends must be phased out.

“This proposal will increase black students’ debt and majority will be indebted eternally. The commission is also creating divisions between students who study at TVET and FET colleges in terms of the quality of teaching and status of their qualifications. It means universities will still remain the preserve for the rich while majority of poor black students would be forced to study at the colleges,” said Poho.

“The ANC-led government is playing political football with our education. It failed to structurally and fundamentally change the education system in the country. We will be meeting during the weekend and the December holidays to plan for the year ahead,” Poho said.

Bonginkosi Khanyile, another EFFSC member based n KwaZulu-Natal, told SABC News they would ramp up protests on campuses next year because they don’t believe government has no resources to provide free universal education.

“It is not true that this government has no resources. Government can, for instance, reduce the number of deputy-ministers and MECs and use the money for their salaries and perks to fund for free decolonised education,” said Khanyile.

The #FeesMustFall activist said there were few positive elements in the report. We are happy, she said that the issue of student accommodation and the provision of a fully-funded TVET and FET colleges is part of the commission’s recommendations. She also lauded the commission’s recommendation to do away with registration saying it removes a major obstacle at the beginning of the year.

But if you juxtaposed this with the ICL, the whole picture changes, she said.

“Unfortunately, this is not something we agree with. We put a number of better proposals that will not leave students mired in debts,” she said, adding that the model that the commission is recommending will leave students indebted for the rest of their lives.

“In the context of South Africa this becomes even worse particularly for black students who still have to deal with ‘black tax’. It will leave majority of them in serious debts and we feel this defeats the whole purpose of education which is to empower people,” said the activist.

She said even if government was to underwrite student debts, it may cost the state more. And this will be a real setback because the money that students pay back must be re-invested to fund more students, she added.

“But we are aware that these are the recommendations of the commission. We are waiting anxiously to see what government’s final policy will be based on these set of proposals,” she concluded.

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