The government has spent nearly N$7 billion between 2018 and 2022 on 70 233 students who were provided with financial assistance by the Namibia Students Financial Assistance Fund (NSFAF). This was revealed by higher education minister Itah Kandjii-Murangi when she announced the 2023 study loan application process which commenced yesterday, and will continue until 31 January 2023.
The minister stated that this is a clear demonstration that the government is committed to education and training, and in particular tertiary education, including technical vocational education and training.
She, therefore, urged prospective students to apply promptly to ensure a timely award to avoid payment of hefty registration fees by institutions of higher learning, as well as possible dropouts due to uncertainty.
“Since independence, the government of the Republic of Namibia, through NSFAF, has been responsible for ensuring that the eligible Namibian child gets access to tertiary education, with special priority being given to needy children,” she noted.
Equally, the majority of students assisted over the past five years are studying at local institutions of higher learning.
This includes a total of 23 760 students funded to study at the University of Namibia (Unam), 10 159 at the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST), while 11 502 were funded to pursue their studies at the International University of Management (IUM).
The rest were funded to pursue studies at various other institutions.
“In line with this trend, it is expected that 17 885 applicants will meet the funding requirements for the 2023 academic years, which will be an addition to 27 407 continuing students. This will bring the total number of students to be funded during the 2023 academic year to 45 292, at a cost N$1.7 billion,” she projected.
She said it is the intention of the government to make NSFAF a revolving fund by recovering loan repayments from gainfully-employed former beneficiaries.
However, the realisation of this vision shall not be detrimental to citizens.
Asked what the government is doing to ensure funds are disbursed on time, the higher education minister explained that by the time educational institutions start the enrolment of students, the government would not yet have started debate on the new budget.
“The NSFAF, like any other government institution working on its previous annual budget, has one-third to continue working on from for the next year. In that budget, we are saying to NSFAF, at the beginning of each year and once the first years and continuing students are awarded, you somehow begin to ensure you attend to non-tuition fees,” she responded.
According to her, most needy students come from rural areas to urban areas where learning institutions are primarily based.
Some of them face challenges with accommodation and transport.
It is thus time for the government to see how best they can synchronise the process of budgeting and the commencement of educational institutions’ calendars.
“This is an ongoing debate. But if we were to change abruptly, we have to look broadly and ensure students are properly synchronised. As the government, we consider seriously the work of NSFAF. This is why one-third of the budget is advanced for them to be able to run whatever they have to cover, especially for new students,” she continued.
NSFAF’s acting CEO Kennedy Kandume said the fund is not oblivious to the challenges and hardships caused by the late disbursement of funds.
This has prompted the fund to improve operational efficiency and start the loan application process early as one of the steps in addressing these challenges.
“We know that the ultimate solution is to align the post-school education (secondary schooling) calendar with the government’s fiscal year,” he observed.
The challenge of the NSFAF’s misalignment at the moment is that institutions of higher learning in Namibia, such as Technical and Vocational Education and Training colleges and universities, open in late January, or early February. However, the financial year only begins on 1 April each year.
After the recent tabling of the additional budget in the National Assembly, an amount of N$146 million was allocated to NSFAF to disburse funds early to public and private institutions.
“We did not receive a single cent from that money because of the process that needs to be undertaken first, which is the tabling in parliament. Those who boycotted the bill in parliament also affected the students’ lives we are serving. I understand it has been passed, but I don’t know where it is. But until it is signed into law, we don’t receive any cent of that money,” Kandume lamented.
Last month, opposition politicians boycotted parliament and handed over a joint letter to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Peter Katjavivi, and threatened not to return to the House until their grievances have been addressed.
The opposition accused Katjavivi of being biased against them.
Swapo MPs have also largely been absent, as the party’s internal elections campaign took candidates to all 14 regions for almost two months. During this time, National Assembly sittings had to be adjourned several times as no quorum was reached.
On 6 April 2022, due to the economic downturn experienced and which was exacerbated by Covid-19, President Hage Geingob pronounced during his State of the Nation address that the Namibian government will write off interest on NSFAF debts in order to lessen the financial burden on past beneficiaries.
“This gesture has resulted in N$2.6 billion of interest completely waivered,” Murangi-Kandjii announced.
Kandume said the fund is not seeing the desired results it expects from former NSFAF beneficiaries honouring their loan repayments.
“The figure is low, compared to what we recovered last year. Initially, we thought people misunderstood the amnesty. The litigation process is still ongoing. It is taking a bit long. We are, however, reaching out to them to pay to avoid the litigation process. Come July next year, the outstanding amount will start accumulating interest,” he stated.