Prof. Jairos Kangira
Saima Nangolo passes her grade 12 examinations with excellent grades, accumulating a total of 42 points. Because her parents have no money for her to go to university, she stays in her rural home for a year until somehow she gets to know that she can get state funding to pursue her degree in medicine. She applies for state funding through the Namibia Students Financial Assistance Fund (NSFAF) and gets enrolled for studies at a local higher education institution. While Saima’s story might appear to be fiction, there are students out there who do not know for one reason or the other that states higher education funding is their basic right.
Among the notable successes that the government has scored in educating the nation since the attainment of independence in 1990 is the creation of the Namibia Students Assistance Fund (NSFAF) by an Act of Parliament (Act 26 of 2000) which has pumped billions of dollars into the higher education sector. In my research on state higher education funding, I discovered that countries like Brazil, the United Kingdom, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India and Indonesia invest billions of dollars each year into their higher education sectors.
The reason for juxtaposing these countries here is to show that Namibia is in the right direction in this regard. It is highly impressive to note that NSFAF has funded hundreds of thousands of Namibian students in higher education; some of these students would have otherwise not known what tertiary education is due to their poor backgrounds. Using the Students’ Loan Scheme, NSFAF funds Namibian students to study or carry out research at NQA accredited or recognised higher education institutions. Although higher education institutions conscientise students about NSFAF, some of them think when they get funding, it is free money that they do not have to pay back. This is not the case. In order for NSFAF to be self-sufficient, it must recover the loans so advanced. The intention is to have a self-sustaining institution where students given loans are expected to pay back. To repay the loan, NSFAF uses an Income-Contingent Model meaning that beneficiaries are only expected to start paying back the loan after graduation and having secured employment.
The loan repayment attracts a minimum interest rate. Successful completion of degree programmes and securing gainful employment are therefore key to NSFAF’s ability to fund more students. But with the high unemployment rate of graduates, efforts to collect all the funds are often fruitless, thereby posing a big threat to the operations of NSFAF. In her study titled The Effectiveness of the Namibia Student Financial Assistance Fund in Recovering Loans, Johanna Fransiska Kanelombe (2019) concluded that: “The majority of the former beneficiaries have not paid back the loans because among other reasons, the salary they receive is not enough to repay and still be able to take care of their families and because some are unemployed. Therefore, conclusions can be drawn that the main finding of the study is that the NSFAF is not recovering loans effectively. The fund could also not recover loans due to irretraceable candidates. From the findings of the research, it was concluded that the NSFAF is not recovering loans successfully.”
Tertiary students have often complained of late payments of funds from NSFAF, leading to many inconveniences as higher education institutions often withhold students’ results until full payments are made. The challenge NSFAF faces in this regard are that it is largely funded by the state, of which the budget gets appropriated in April every year. Thus the academic year (January to December) is not in tandem with the financial year (April to March). After appropriation money gets released in chunks as per the government cash flow management. This means that NSFAF does not receive the whole allocation at once, but in portions. These are facts that clients may not be aware of. Also, sometimes higher education institutions do not submit accurate invoices to NSFAF; this leads to delay in the disbursement of funds to beneficiaries.
It has been suggested that to make NSFAF viable, an established income stream meant to fund the Namibian child is a welcome gesture. For instance, people have advocated for NSFAF to be offered fishing quotas. It is argued that the establishment of an income stream will reduce the burden on Treasury.
Funds that are sometimes not repaid are grants. For example, an amount of N$7.5 billion was disbursed for the period between 1997 to 2019, of which loans amounted to N$5.6 billion while grants took N$1.9 billion. There is no obligation on the beneficiary to repay the grant. Similarly, only matured loans are repayable, which means that such beneficiaries should have completed their studies and secured employment.
It is highly commendable that NSFAF has assisted many students during the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. In order to facilitate e-learning, NSFAF acquired 28,000 internet devices with 10 GigaByte per second data per month which are being distributed to students at the moment. Also, N$2.4 million has been availed to the Namibia University of Science and Technology to upgrade its servers/storage facility as well as expand institutional bandwidth.
The University of Namibia received N$7 million which has been used to upgrade its servers/storages facility for its use and accommodate e-learning platforms of other higher education institutions. NSFAF also in the process of acquiring laptops for all needy students, both NSFAF funded and privately funded students. Namibian students studying abroad received a once-off payment of up to US$250.00 per student to cushion them during the pandemic period.
NSFAF disseminates information about its services through television, radio, social media, NSFAF Website, information sessions at schools or universities, parent and student meetings and trade fairs. NSFAF services are fully automated. In case of queries, these two e-mail addresses are important: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. The following telephone numbers are readily available: 264-614346012/13/83. Information is also available on www.nsfaf.na.
When all is said and done, there is no doubt that NSFAF continues to service the higher education sector by providing funds to students to fulfil their education dreams. A long-term solution to augmenting funds from Treasury is to establish an income stream for NSFAF.