The Namibia Students Financial Assistance Fund (NSFAF) has been dominating news pages in recent weeks, for a variety of reasons. Naturally, for an institution mandated to provide funding to students, it is expected they will be in the spotlight at this time of the year when thousands of students jostle to secure funding in order to register and pursue their studies. We were pleased that this week treasury announced an injection of a further N$150 million into the beleaguered Fund, after days of uncertainty. It was reported also this week that UNAM, NUST and IUM had all stuck to their guns that they may not register any student unless they post at least 50 percent of their tuition fees. The three universities were, as a result of their firm stand, accused of all sorts of things, including lack of patriotism. But in truth, they have learned from past experiences that populist decisions, such as letting students register without paying a cent, as happened a year ago, caused them untold pain. The budgets of UNAM and NUST were severely cut in the current financial year; to the extent that there were reports of real financial struggles at these institutions to the extent that even paying salaries became a mountainous task. If a university doesn’t have money to pay salaries, how could it possibly have any to fund its core mandate, which is to impart competitive knowledge and skills in a tough world market? NSFAF too cannot be funded to only pay salaries and compromise on its mandate of disbursement of tuition fees. Allocating shoestring budgets to NSFAF has far-reaching implications on ordinary lives in Namibia and, by implication, the entire social fabric of the nation. True, there have been retrogressive quarrels and infights coming out of NSFAF, pitting the Fund’s CEO against the old board of directors. But that aside, the Fund had one of its most difficult years in living memory when its inability to pay for tuition had students almost getting expelled from universities due to soaring tuition debts. Reports late last year suggested that students enrolled in Chinese and Russian universities were on the verge of expulsion from school and deportation from those countries as persistent calls to pay tuition fell on deaf ears. What a national embarrassment that would have been! What did treasury think would happen when they cut NSFAF’s budget so deeply? That the Fund would suck money from its thumbs to pay student fees? If such cuts were meant to punish NSFAF for the infights and alleged incompetence, it is the innocent students who were hurt in the end. One of the criticisms directed at NSFAF is that it allegedly overcommitted by approving funding of more students than it could afford. Yet our understanding is that the Fund is obliged to approve funding for every student that meets a particular threshold in terms of points obtained. This essentially means disapproving applications of qualified students would be in violation of that provision. While we fully understand the full extent of the financial challenges facing our country, our clarion call is that government’s fiscal consolidation efforts must never compromise the lives of our people, especially students whose futures are solely dependent on such funding. In final analysis, it is our hope and desire to see the new board – led by the youthful Jerome Mutumba - turn around the current misfortunes of the fund for the greater benefit of thousands of students out there. It goes without saying that getting such people educated is a great investment for the country.
2018-01-26 10:12:49 8 months ago