The South African economy stands to be the biggest beneficiary if the country’s funding woes in the tertiary sector are resolved. To this end, nothing but a concerted team effort is required from all stakeholders and supporting role players.
The comment comes from student crowdfunding platform Feenix, at the start of the 2021 academic year that sees thousands of students in a financial quandary that is preventing them from starting their studies.
“The pandemic and struggling economy have left countless families in a position where the budgets have been severely impacted, which in turn has meant that many university students are unable to settle their outstanding debt or pay their registration fees,” explains Leana de Beer, Chief Executive Officer of local student crowdfunding platform Feenix.
This in turn has created a knock-on effect, which de Beer says has placed additional strain on traditional sources of alternative financial relief such as the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and other government funding, which supports approximately 40% of university students across South Africa.
While clarification has been given by NSFAS that Bachelor of Education (B Ed) and Bachelor of Nursing (B Cur) programmes will still be funded, the funding organisation remains under severe pressure to finalise applications of more than 800 000 students for the 2021.
“Students who are unable to pay their university fees and are neither eligible for NSFAS funding or a student loan, have little recourse available to them, and are at risk of being left behind,” de Beer points out. “This is the last thing our economic prospects can afford.”
There is some hope, however, as De Beer says that unconventional sources of student financing, like Feenix, can help to fill this gap and provide an alternative way for students to secure the funds they need to study.
“Feenix connects students who owe university fees with funder communities to assist them to fundraise for their student debt via an online crowdfunding platform. To date, about R71 Million has been raised on the platform towards the student debt of more than 1900 university students,” she adds.
For the majority of students that come onto the platform, Feenix and other alternative funding platforms are often a last resort once all other options have failed.
The Department of Higher Education and Training has pointed out that improving access to tertiary level education is imperative, particularly to support the objective of rebuilding the country’s economy. To achieve this, collaboration is critical.
“We recognise that we are all in this together,” says de Beer.
In the case of NSFAS, she adds that collaborating with the private sector could help to ease the added strain and legacy issues that the national funding organisation faces.
“As is the case for many other government institutions, partnership agreements provide the advantage of accessing advanced systems, resources and a wealth of expertise all while ensuring a level of accountability,” she explains.
De Beer says that part of the strain has been compounded by legacy systems that have prevented NSFAS from efficiently managing the disbursements of funding to students.
“One of the solutions to circumvent this problem is to work with service providers that have a solid track record, coupled with transparent technology infrastructure to handle large scale payments for university fees, accommodation and other resources needed by students.”
She explains that edtech (education technology) and other private sector players should be seen as supportive partners for both government and universities alike.
“Fundamental to this, is to demonstrate the value that collaboration with the private sector can have in making a much bigger impact. More importantly, how it can achieve the overarching goal of creating a more democratised education system.”