…As student funding crisis looms
Namibia Student Financial Aid Fund (NSFAF) will need at least N$12 billion during the next five years to cater for the funding needs of all qualifying students at university and technical and vocational education (TVET) colleges, The Patriot can reveal.
According to NSFAF’s five-year projections, its funding needs will almost double from N$1.5 billion next year to N$2.9 billion in 2023. Student numbers on the other hand will jump from 48 547 in 2019 to 64 011 in 2023, this includes both continuing and new intakes.
This projected expenditure on higher education comes at a time when the government is struggling to balance its books and has pushed its borrowings to what many see to unsustainable levels.
Treasury is busy cutting appropriations to government departments by billions as part of its reprioritisation exercise to fund its competing priorities.
Although NSFAF needs the billions to assist over 100 000 financially needy students for the next five years, treasury is allegedly reluctant to avail funds to NSFAF because the funding body has no ‘Student Financial Assistance Policy’.
This has resulted in thousands of students studying locally in abroad being left stranded as their studies for 2018 have yet to be paid. At some stage NSFAF even informed students that it will only cater for tuition fees in 2018 while excluding non-tuition fees such as transport, meals and accommodation.
Some students have since been forced to abandon their studies while others have threatened to drag NSFAF to court for breach of contract.
Two senior government officials confirmed to The Patriot this week that the NSFAF leadership and Minister of Higher Education, Training and Innovation Dr. Itah Kandjii-Murangi met Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila on 27 April 2018 to discuss the funding shortcomings of NSFAF.
The PM, according to the government officials who asked to remain anonymous, informed the delegation that she was not impressed with the manner NSFAF is handling the issue of the student assistance policy.
Kuugongelwa-Amadhila’s reluctance to release funding until the student policy issue is sorted is said to be spurred on by her belief that the country’s funding towards education should be done in a “responsible manner”.
“PM has been asking the ministry for the student assistance policy since 2015, she even wrote to the ministry but nothing has been forthcoming. The policy has been ready since 2015, it is therefore not known why the line minister did not submit the policy for approval,” said a government source.
“The policy was drafted before the minister came to the ministry in 2015 with the help of the Millennium Challenge Account(MCA) during the consultation stages. When she came there were some components of the policy that she was not happy with and she proposed for some changes that were subsequently effected.
We do not know why the policy has not been submitted for approval,” said a NSFAF official who was part of the process that led to the formulation of the shelved policy.
NSFAF board chairperson Jerome Mutumba rubbished claims that government is withholding the funds because of the award policy. “There can be no truth in that, after all, we have already notified students who have been awarded.
As you know there are a lot of natural bureaucracies in the system, but I can assure you it has nothing to do with the policy,” he said when approached yesterday.
Mutumba said the process to revise the policy is at an advanced stage.
“There is already an existing policy, we are currently working on revising the policy through various engagements because everyone has diverse views.
We are thus continuing with the consultations until all the stakeholders are generally comfortable with the policy,” he said.
The Patriot understands Kandjii-Murangi wants regional councils under the stewardship of regional governors to select and submit beneficiaries to NSFAF, regional funding quotas as well as quotas for public and private tertiary institutions.
There are also talks that NSFAF’s proposal for a Presidential Merit Award to be established has been met with stern resistance by the minister.
Although government is not planning to abandon its commitment to education funding, Kuugongelwa-Amadhila has on several occasions made it clear that she wants every penny to be accounted for.
NSFAF has not been able to recover millions dished out to students in loans over the years, hence, government believes the existence of a student assistance policy will go a long way to address such anomalies.
During a workshop this week, NSFAF’s chief financial officer James Nyandoro said the fund need to be given powers to access tax information of beneficiaries in order to boost its capacity to recover funds disbursed as loans. Currently the law does not allow Treasury to share tax information of individuals with third parties.
As a short-term intervention, Nyandoro proposed that NSFAF should have an overdraft facility to allow for students’ payments while awaiting its budget allocation.
For the long term, he said there is need for the alignment of the NSFAF Act and Inland Revenue Act to allow for collaboration.
“Amend the NSFAF Act to make in compulsory for employers to make annual declarations of ALL graduates in their employment and whether funded by NSFAF. Make it compulsory for all government employees, SOEs and Public Office Bearers to declare that they have fully repaid or are paying NSFAF loan,” Nyandoro proposed.
There are fears however that Kandjii-Murangi is hesitant to give her blessings for NSFAF to be moved to the finance ministry under the proposed SOE overhaul.
“If you look at the amount of money NSFAF needs, one can see it needs to be run like a bank and it would therefore make perfect sense that the institution falls under Treasury.
This will even answer their calls to access tax information of beneficiaries which will thus enhance their prospects of tracing loan recipients,” one senior government official told The Patriot.
Fears that government was at sixes and sevens over the NSFAF issue were further fuelled on Monday by the “confusing” workshop, held in Windhoek by NSFAF which included presidential advisers, high-level education sector-based team of SOE and university bosses and NANSO.
Kandjii-Murangi, who was accompanied by her deputy as well as permanent secretary and NSFAF bosses, shed little light on the matter. Finance minister Calle Schlettwein was not part of the workshop despite being on the program to deliver a statement, which The Patriot understands Treasury was not in favour of.
Efforts to get hold of Kandjii-Murangi proved futile as her mobile phone went unanswered.