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African Students Rack Up Debt Despite Full Bursaries from NSFAS

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What used to be envisioned as a lucrative future has now become a continuous source of financial pressure for many students at the university, even among those who receive full bursaries from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.

Having suffered from extra costs and bad management at their higher education institutions, such a heavy load has led many students to drop out or reach a point of precarious existence. Their expectations of beginning higher education with a clean slate, many are now overwhelmed by such extra costs and institutions' poor financial management.

African Students Rack Up Debt Despite Full Bursaries from NSFAS

(Photo : PEXELS / Monstera Production)

Increasing Costs and Hidden Costs

A full bursary from NSFAS does cover tuition fees; in reality, though, its cost is way beyond that. Added to this are students' expenses for accommodation, textbooks, food, transport, and other living expenses. Students fight against ever-increasingly high fees within the universities and conducive learning environments, as well as the rising cost of living. Added to this financial drain is the problem of hidden costs and administrative inefficiencies that sometimes lead to serious backlogs in bursary disbursements. Students who often rely on these funds to take care of their immediate needs, therefore, find themselves low on resources to carry on their studies.

Speaking in reaction, the NSFAS spokesperson, Ishmael Mnisi, admitted to these issues and requested students to report further delays or discrepancies in finance when they arise. To many students, however, these are poor measures for solving the systemic problems leading to financial instability. What fundamentally undermines students' ability to bridge this shortfall is the theoretical stipends awarded by bursaries, which stand far away from reality.

READ MORE: $1.6 Trillion Student Loan Still Unpaid, Millions Of Borrowers Struggle As Payments Resume 

Impact on Student Life and Academic Performance

The financial odds working against the students have far-reaching implications for their academic performance and general well-being. Students who cannot afford accommodation on campus or basic needs are obliged to squat in friends' residence rooms or seek alternative housing arrangements that are mostly unsafe or not conducive to study. This, in turn, leads them to suffer in terms of academic performance. This precarious living situation further deteriorates their mental and physical health.

This stress of having to deal with financial instability brings burnoutanxiety, and hopelessness. Students who should work on their intellectual and personal development are constantly stressed by the daily struggle to survive financially. A setting is thus created for a high dropout rate because brilliant students constantly give up on education due to insurmountable financial pressures. This is not only a personal tragedy for those students; it does concern the potential graduate loss for the country, future workforce, and economic development.

Potential Solutions and Role of Stakeholders

This calls for the need to address the financial woes of the students in multifaceted ways, engaging all stakeholders, including the government, educational institutions, and private sectors. First of all, serious research needs to be done to revamp the NSFAS funding model so that the needs of students regarding accommodation and living expenses are adequately met. Equally, universities have to look seriously into containing increases in tuition and other fees within the broader economic conditions in which students and their families find themselves.

Furthermore, the efficiency and transparency of bursary payments must be improved. Delays in payments exacerbate the financial burden on students, and such processes must be smoothened to provide immediate relief. Universities must engage closely with NSFAS on effective ways to establish clear lines of communication and support structures that will assist students in genuine need.

Private sector involvement can also be crucial. Business enterprises can provide scholarships, internships, or part-time jobs so that while students gain experience in work, they earn money to aid in their studies. More financial literacy programs will help students acquire the skills necessary for them to take charge of their finances better and make informed decisions on budgeting, saving, and spending.

While full NSFAS bursaries are giant strides towards getting any person through higher education, this only does little to solve the problem of paying for all students' finances. The serious insecurity problem requires a much better answer, with collaboration on fundamental solutions so that all students are enabled to fulfill their educational potential without the sword of debt looming over them. In doing so, it will help build a more equitable and sustainable educational system that will ensure that the nation's future leaders are truly supported.

RELATED ARTICLE: Federal Judges Block Key Components Of Biden's Student Debt Relief Plan; Borrowers May Not Get Debt Cancellation Or Lower Payments 

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