#FEESMUSTFALL# - A PERSPECTIVE FROM CAREER WISE
We have not previously issued any statement around the #FeesMustFall# protests as we are very aware that there are many different perspectives on this topic and we did not wish to offend any of our stakeholders who comprise a broad spectrum of individuals as well as organizations. We also did not wish to appear to be speaking out on anyone’s behalf whether they be our students or their sponsors. We have now been asked to do so and given that student funding is our area of expertise we take this opportunity to bring our unique experience and understanding of this issue to bear on our viewpoint which is solely that of the current Career Wise owners and managers.
We believe in the following principles: -
Any South African student who gains access to a tertiary institution on academic merit should be able to pursue his/her studies with an equitable chance of success. To have an equitable chance of success, all students need to have access to funding for all their study related costs. These include but are not limited to registration, tuition and accommodation fees as well as other costs such as meals, books, transport, stationery, computer hardware and software. In addition to being complete, student funding needs to be accessible to everyone including the very poor (i.e. not rely solely on online applications), transparent (everyone needs to understand the basis on which is it available) and timeous (the funds need to be available to the student as they are required without delay).
We believe that NSFAS, the current government loan/bursary system is a good system in principle but is plagued by very poor throughput rates and therefore very poor repayment rates due to some of these problems i.e. funding is not complete, is not available timeously and the administration is not transparent and accessible to its users. It is therefore in urgent need of recapitalization and an administrative overhaul in order to address the very real needs of the expanded tertiary student population the majority of whom need financial assistance. Incentives such as writing off portions of the loan for academic success can be built into the system to encourage improved graduation rates. Given government’s statements on the availability of funding it appears extremely unlikely that fees for tertiary studies will become free in the foreseeable future and in the absence of free fees, an accessible, complete and functional loan system is essential. Even if fees were to be free, poor students would still require access to loan funding to pay for their other study related costs such as accommodation, meals, books, transport etc. A widespread, government funded student loan system is therefore key to the viability of the tertiary sector. Loans could be repaid through the SARS system as an additional tax layer (capped at say 5% of taxable income) once the student becomes a tax payer and falls into a tax bracket.
In the meantime, government also has an obligation to maintain subsidy levels to public tertiary institutions to ensure that fees remain at reasonable levels and do not continue to rise above the annual rate of inflation as has been the case in recent years as universities attempt to recoup their funding shortfall through student fee collections.
With respect to private sector funding in the form of bursaries and scholarships we believe that this remains as important an element as ever. The #FeesMustFall# protests have highlighted the current widespread shortage of funding and even if a massively expanded loan system is put in place (which is currently not the case), there would still be an important place for scholarships to be awarded on the basis of merit and/or need to outstanding or particularly deserving candidates and for bursaries to be made available by companies to candidates on the basis of criteria such as scarce skills, coming from operational areas, being dependents of employees etc.
With respect to the role of our organization we believe that this remains key to student funding as we offer expert services in the areas of bursary and scholarship administration, student recruitment and support all of which result in our achieving graduation rates thirty percent above the national average and nearly fifty percent above those achieved by NSFAS funded students. The tertiary education sector in South Africa is plagued by low throughput rates caused by factors such as poor academic preparation, poverty, a lack of guidance and mentoring, peer and family pressures etc. Funding students can therefore represent a serious investment risk on the part of donors and sponsors. By utilizing our services all of which are designed to enhance students’ chances of success, sponsors maximize the return on their investments and have the best possible chance of achieving their objectives i.e. to produce graduates.
It is our hope that universities, students, government and other role players can work together over the coming period to resolve the problems highlighted by the #FeesMustFall# campaign and bring about lasting solutions. As the problems are entrenched and affect large numbers of people and involve very significant budgets, we appreciate that this is a process and that solutions will not be found easily or quickly. In the mean time it is incumbent on all of us to continue our support of those students who wish to continue with their studies and complete their qualifications. We have witnessed a great deal of trauma and distress on the part of those who are in this situation in recent weeks and would hope not to see this continue. We respect the rights of those who wish to protest but would ask that this will not take place at the expense of those who wish to continue and we condemn any violence, intimidation and destruction of property.
We therefore appeal to sponsors not to withdraw their support in the face of the current disruptions and instead continue with their commitments.
Statement issued by Career Wise as represented by:-
John Legoete; Paul Vuma; Monique Adams
November 6 2016