We can all make a difference in ensuring the lives of poor students who have university dreams are realised, writes Sihle Mlambo.
THE Higher Education Transformation Summit has come and gone, with one of the key challenges highlighted being that of funding studies particularly for poor South African students.
With more than R6bn owed to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme by graduates and a mere R248m recollection by the aid scheme in the last financial year, it is evident that more needs be done to support funding higher education.
The summit highlighted as a resolution to consider the idea of an additional graduate tax and a corporate tax to assist government with the higher education challenge it faces.
In his closing remarks, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, said: “If we are to build South Africa, we must all take responsibility for its building”.
“To the private sector: come to the party, in many sense the private sector is the major beneficiary (of higher education). We know they will argue they pay tax, but yes you pay tax, but that is not enough, the challenge is bigger than that,” he said.
The mooted taxes if they are too come to effect will take years, ordinary South Africans – particularly those of us who work and have started earning decent salaries should consider, not as a burden, not as a compulsion, the idea of creating a donor pool for the financial aid scheme or any organisation with a mandate to help get deserving poor students in school.
Dr Sizwe Mabizela, Vice-Chancellor at Rhodes University believes the idea of additional taxes will leave many South Africans feeling “irritable”, but is in support of the idea of donor pools.
“The private sector has an important role to play in providing funding for students. It is about time they play a significant role, yes we should consider wealth tax, but the very notion of tax seems to create discomfort in our society, but the reality is government funding is not adequate,” he said.
“We need to find other possible sources of income to fund deserving students”
“If you are patriotic you should contribute to dealing with the problems of this country, you should not just point fingers, each of us have to find ways of making a contribution.”
When Mabizela became deputy vice-chancellor and later principal at Rhodes, he reserved a portion of his salary to a fund that helps financially needy students.
“We all have a role to play, many are playing that role in a way or another, maybe you are assisting your sisters child’s fee, so people do make that contribution. So rebuilding this country is a responsibility for each of us,” he said.
The South African Students Congress and Young Communist League have rejected the idea of a graduate tax, but welcomed proposals for a corporate tax to fund education.
SASCO President Ntuthuko Makhombothi added that a skills levy should also be considered and called for government to re-prioritize education.
So as NSFAS grapples with the real challenge of recouping money, how about as South Africans – particularly middle class South Africa, and yes, you too Corporate South Africa, how about we stand up, put our hands up and consider a noble cause to contribute selflessly to more lives of young South Africans who deserve an opportunity in pursuing higher education in South Africa.
NSFAS chairman Sizwe Nxasana revealed on Thursday that the aid scheme had no donors to speak of, and in response, imagine how much difference a million working South Africans contributing a mere R100 each per month would make in increasing the NSFAS funding pool or any other organisation committed to helping young South Africans get ahead.
And as the financial aid scheme contemplates the idea of funding the “missing middle” – students deemed to be from families that don’t qualify for NSFAS but struggle to pay university fees – the money must come from somewhere.
Yes Corporate South Africa must come to the party, but so too do ordinary South Africans, make an effort if you can afford to and have a desire too. In a few years it seems we will be forced to with the graduate tax if it passes – but consider the positives.
If such an idea was to gain momentum, I would appeal to government to not see this as an excuse to reduce allocation to the aid scheme and to universities, but to only see it as a vehicle to assist and ensure that we reduce the already high number of young and deserving poor students who are being let down by the system currently.
We have all heard stories of deserving students who had to drop out of university because of a lack of funding, in many cases, to never return, but we can help in some way make a difference to the lives of poor young South African students whose only crime was having the desire to be educated and have a chance to break the cycle of poverty they may have grew up in.