News & Events

Pledging to pay historic student debt

Left – Right: Khutso Mashiloane (Education & Training Officer:NSRC), Prof. Muxe Nkondo (Unisa Council Member), Dr Moses Hlongoane (Acting Executive Dean: CAS ), Prof. Puleng LenkaBula (Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor), Tokollo Mmamaro (Sports Officer: NSRC), Prof. Mpine Makoe (Acting Executive Dean: CEDU), Shatadi Phoshoko (Secretary-General: NSRC)

Behind: Prof. Steward Mothata (Unisa Registrar) , Prof. Pumela Msweli (Executive Dean: SBL), Prof. Olaotse Kole (Acting Executive Dean: CLAW), Prof. Ramagoai Magano (Acting Executive Dean: CAES), Ululutho Gwabeni ((Deputy Security-General: NSRC)

Student debt is one of the most topical issues affecting the South African higher education sector. Unfortunately, unprivileged students are at the receiving end of this crisis. Consequently, some of these students also miss employment opportunities as they cannot provide employers with academic documents, they cannot access due to outstanding fees. Addressing the historic student debt challenge, Unisa student leaders and the Department of Institutional Advancement have initiated a debt relief fundraising campaign inviting all internal and external stakeholders to participate.

The National Student Representative Council (NSRC) is the key role player in the project and will take the lead in championing the student-centric campaign. The purpose of the project is as follows:

•           To settle the student debt and raise funds for student bursaries

•           To provide comprehensive financial student support

•           To mobilise all Unisa students towards a common cause of sharing in the service of humanity

•           To foster loyalty and cultivate the culture of giving among students

Frankie Mojapelo, the Acting Director from the Unisa Foundation and Alumni Relations Directorate, notes that in the country's collective student debt of R14 billion, Unisa alone has a debt of R830 million. The office of the university’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Khathutshelo Ramukumba, and the Directorate of Student Funding will also partner in the campaign to administer the donations.

Mojapelo says the campaign mobilises students to raise funds for themselves; hence, student leaders are taking the lead. He adds: "We are cultivating a culture of giving among students — to create a sense of loyalty and encouraging future responsible alumni of the university who will leave a legacy." Furthermore, he says: "The campaign will support access for success and affected students will manage to complete their studies in record time. Thus, we request employed students to participate by donating in return for a Section 18A tax certificate."

Shatadi Phoshoko (Secretary-General: NSRC)

Shatadi Phoshoko, Secretary General of the NSRC, says the campaign will close student disparities. "As student leaders, we are against a classist university where only rich people progress while others have to stress to pay the university. We will not leave that void," she asserts.

Phoshoko explains that student debt marginalises many students who are fresh from high school. She says most of these students drop out as they cannot continue to register or progress to the next level of their studies due to the unpaid debt.

Busisiwe Mahlangu, Unisa’s Alumni Communications Coordinator, adds that many factors contributed to the accumulation of student debt. Moreover, she notes the demand for education outweighing the supply of financial aid as the main challenge —mainly the allocation of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), COVID-19, unemployment, and demands for free higher education.

Mahlangu further says the university, through its Foundation and various sponsors, continues to raise funds for bursaries and scholarships. "This year alone, close to 2400 students have been supported through this approach."  She adds: "We are also encouraging students who can afford to make any contributions, even if it is R10 per week, to do so."

Other initiatives include Alumni fundraising and crowd funding. In this regard, Unisa entered into a strategic partnership with the Feenix Trust, which focuses on crowd fundraising towards student bursaries, current and historical debts and any form of student financial support. The collaboration with the trust allows students to use the Feenix online platform by developing their profiles and appealing to families, friends and associates to assist in making financial contributions towards their study fees and settling historical debt.

Unisa students are also encouraged to initiate other innovative ideas and strategies for raising funds towards historical student debt to enable fellow students to complete their studies and enter the job market without debts.

*By Lesego Chiloane-Ravhudzulo, Journalist, Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2022/09/12