NSFAS-qualifying students who carry debt from 2019 will be allowed to register at universities, provided they sign an acknowledgement of debt (AOD) form.
This was outlined in a response to a memorandum of demands from the South African Union of Students (SAUS), which was submitted on behalf of SRCs from all 26 universities in the country.
Among the demands in the memorandum – which was submitted to Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister Blade Nzimande on January 16 – was that historic debts be scrapped, students in debt be allowed to register, and academic records and certificates to be issued to all students, even those owing fees.
In his reply to the list of demands, Nzimande said, while NSFAS qualifying students who carry debt from 2019 would be allowed to register, he was also aware of significant student debt from those who were not NSFAS beneficiaries.
“Unfortunately, public funds for the university system are constrained and there is no possibility that debts of students who are not NSFAS-qualifying can be eradicated by government. A longer-term solution lies in improved funding opportunities for ‘missing middle’ students, and working with the private sector,” he said.
Nzimande said he hoped that, in future, there would be a development of a more comprehensive student financial aid scheme.
He emphasised the importance of SRCs and universities raising funds in order to support those students who were not NSFAS beneficiaries. He also urged the private sector and other donors to continue providing university bursaries.
The department was also working to develop a regulatory framework for university fees, which would in the longer term ensure that they were kept at affordable levels, he said.
As per an agreement in 2019, students owing university fees would be able to access their academic records for purposes of employment or further studies. Nzimande said the department had engaged closely with all universities where there had been complaints, emphasising that no student should be prevented from accessing further study or employment by not having access to their academic record.
“The methodology employed for the release of academic records to prospective employers is managed at university level. I will raise this issue with Universities South Africa,” he said in his reply.
NSFAS-qualifying students will not be expected to pay upfront fees, as it was in 2019, however, those who do not qualify, would have to pay upfront payments according to the policies of various institutions.
SAUS also raised the issue of accommodation, calling on the minister to revise the accreditation of students’ accommodation to ensure all deserving students found places to stay.
Nzimande said the issue of accommodation was being addressed with all institutions to ensure that, in the absence of fully accredited accommodation, NSFAS-qualifying students would be able to access non-accredited accommodation, as long as the university has a registration and verification process in place.
“This is an interim arrangement, while working towards a more comprehensive accreditation and verification system.
“Students are able to stay at home and receive travel and living allowances, live with a relative or friend and receive travel and living allowances, make their own arrangements and receive travel and living allowances.”