NSFAF recently started sending out messages to graduates instructing them to start paying back the loans they received from the embattled fund. However as youth leaders, we have always been unequivocal in stating that we will not be paying back a cent to NSFAF. It has consistently been the position of every student and youth body (SUN, NANSO, NASA, SRC’s and Youth Leagues) that graduates should not pay back NSFAF.
The Students Union of Namibia (SUN) was founded on a clear-cut radical position that calls for free, quality and decolonized higher education in our lifetime. At its General Students Council in 2015, the Namibia National Students Organisation (NANSO) adopted Resolution 16 which equally called for free, quality and decolonized higher education. The newly formed Namibia Africa Students Association (NASA) has also voiced its position that students should not pay back NSFAF. This position has further been amplified by SRC’s at IHL’s and political party youth leagues.
We are more importantly guided by the call made in 2015 by His Excellency the President, Dr. Hage Geingob that all study loans should be abolished and turned into grants. In fact His Excellency the President did not mince his words. He was very clear by saying that “Going Forward, we should move away from loans to a grant system. It was not there. It was introduced by someone. We should give children grants, so they don’t graduate in debt’.
His Excellency’s argument has very strong merit to it, and it is one of the basis on which student bodies have consistently held the position that graduates should not pay back NSFAF. It is a common fact that the significant majority of students funded by NSFAF are poor, black students coming from very difficult family backgrounds with no generational wealth. This is the very reason why they apply for funding in the first place, because their families cannot afford to send them to institutions of higher learning to further their studies.
When these students eventually graduate, they are often the breadwinners within their respective families. It is then incumbent upon them to ensure that they not only drag out their families out of a dangerous cycle of generational poverty, but that they themselves also attempt to build their own wealth portfolio and take care of the families they are starting as young adults.
It is therefore not acceptable that we must put these very same graduates that are battling the forces of generational poverty and lack of generational wealth immediately into debt after graduation. It is on this very basis that student bodies have called for free higher education, so that we do not burden those who are already disadvantaged by past historical and wealth contradictions any longer.
Renowned Namibian debater Samuel Ndungula put in best when he said that “Whether feasible or not, higher education must be free because government has a responsibility to adequately fund black students because of our disadvantaged history and lack of generational wealth”. Samuel Ndungula’s sentiments complement the argument that countries such as Namibia have unique historical and social contradictions, and these unique historical and social conditions must be taken into account when we consider the question of NSFAF loans.
Secondly, NSFAF’s recovery process is contradicted from the very start. NSFAF has lost hundreds of thousands of records of students that it has previously funded. The specific group of graduates that are now being targeted for repayment are those that have mostly been funded from 2016 upwards. I am not arguing that those who were funded before 2016 should also be targeted, but I am simply highlighting the recklessness within which the fund has been administered over the years.
More importantly, NSFAF has also managed to squander hundreds of millions of dollars that were never accounted for. When NSFAF management appeared before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Accounts in 2016, the fund could not account for differences between its general ledger and other financial statements amounting to more than N$300 million. These are not the only funds that were squandered and unaccounted for.
Administratively, the fund has also not managed to fund its students on efficiently and effectively. The fund is known for its constant delayed payments of tuition and non-tuition fees, the wrongful payments of tuition fees to non-tuition fee accounts and vice-versa, as well the complete non-payment of some accounts, just to mention a few of the constant headaches that students have had to experience at the hands of NSFAF over the years.
Be that as it may, government must develop other mechanisms to ensure that the fund remains sustainable without putting graduates into debt. Student bodies have submitted to government a number of proposals as to how this can be done. For example, the NSFAF parental income threshold is simply too high and unsustainable. NSFAF requires that for a student to be funded, their parents will need to have a combined parental income of less than N$750 000 per annum. This threshold is simply too high, and it means that some students whose parents can actually afford to pay for their higher education end up getting funding at the expense of poor students who in fact need the funding.
Hence, NSFAF must lower this threshold to an acceptable quantum. For example, the combined household income per annum threshold for NSFAS in South Africa is only R350 000. This threshold is reasonable, and ensures that only the poorest of the poor are funded by the state and ensures the sustainability free higher education as announced by former President Jacob Zuma in December 2017 following the #FeesMustFall protests.
However we must go further than this, government must ensure that NSFAF is partly funded through our nations’ vast mineral resources. For example, consistent calls have been made by student bodies and other sectors of society to allocate a chunk of fishing quotas to the fund, for example. These are clear cut solutions as to how NSFAF can fund students for free without having them back. Therefore, based on the arguments I have advanced above, we humbly reject paying back NSFAF.