ETDP SETA’s debt intervention helps retain a student in a UFS study programme

30-06-21 USAf 0 comment

A firm resolve to obtain university education motivated an Umlazi Township resident to push for the funding he needed to get a bachelor’s degree.   Twenty-two-year-old Mr Mbuso Ngubane (below right) is now firmly grounded in the BCom in Business and Financial Analytics degree at the University of the Free State (UFS).

He is one of the 9500 students who benefitted when their university tuition debt for 2020 got completely wiped off, thanks to a R280 million grant to public universities, from the Education, Training and Development Practices Sector Education and Training Authority (ETDP SETA). The grant was channelled to universities through their representative body, Universities South Africa (USAf).

Ngubane recently wrote to thank USAf for securing and administering the fund that made it possible for him to re-register at UFS for the 2021 academic year. Narrating his personal story, he has shared that when he was admitted into his undergraduate programme in 2020, he did not have the requisite tuition amount let alone the registration fee. He was fortunate to get assistance from his church which paid the registration fee just in time for him to start the academic year.

Counting on the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) for assistance with his tuition fees, Ngubane went on to enrol and attend classroom instruction. He was aware of the risk he was taking but carried on studying, nonetheless.  When the national lockdown was announced in late March 2020, and teaching and learning shifted to online, Ngubane left his UFS residence and returned home.  

At that point he received a text message from NSFAS, declining his application on account of his family income.  Because the annual income of his household fell into the R350 001 to R600 000 bracket, this placed him above the qualifying threshold of NSFAS. He says this rejection was hard to take, especially because he had already completed his first-quarter study assessments.

Although one obvious option was to de-register, Ngubane chose to do everything he possibly could to get funding. He continued to study while applying to different entities for funding during the academic year. But that yielded no fruit. By December 2020, his account showed R60 000 of outstanding tuition fees. In March 2021 he received notification from one of the organisations he had approached for help, to the effect that he would be funded for 2021. But that was on condition that he paid off the balance owed from 2020. “In frustration I started applying everywhere else for assistance. I wrote many emails to the likes of the Land Bank, Multi-choice, Nomzamo Lighthouse Foundation and others, including National Youth Development Agency.”

In his Google search for bursaries, he also learned of the opportunities from the different Sector Education and Training Agencies. That is how he found out about the ETDP SETA grant, even though he did not have to do anything as staff from the UFS Student Financial Aid Office applied on his behalf.    Ngubane’s circumstances changed when he received a call from USAf stating that his 2020 debt would be cleared from the ETDP SETA grant.

“I was incredibly surprised and ecstatic. This assistance accelerated my 2021 application. I am deeply grateful for USAf’s invaluable support”.

His advice to other students in similar circumstances is: “Never give up, I honestly believe that the education we are fighting for is truly worth it. Always appreciate those around you including those who are supportive during tough times.”

Ms Zozo Tshaka is also grateful for the partial relief secured from the ETDP SETA

Another testimonial on the ETDP SETA bursary comes from 33-year-old Ms Zozo Tshaka (left) from Port Elizabeth.  One of the recipients of the R80 million that was awarded for post-graduate bursaries, Tshaka says she enrolled for a Post-graduate Diploma in Corporate Financial Planning at the Nelson Mandela University in 2020. She was looking to build her knowledge in Finance and to add to the qualification she already had in BCom Accounting.

Tshaka says she was unaware that she still had an outstanding debt of R16 000 related to her BCom Accounting degree completed in 2012.  According to her, the person who had been responsible for her fees had passed away in 2016.  She says she only discovered the debt at the time of registering for the post-graduate programme. On the strength of signing an acknowledgment of debt and a promise to pay at a later stage, NMU allowed her to register.

She has since been offered a full ETDP-SETA bursary. Of the R25,000 that was payable for her post-graduate diploma in 2020, the ETDP-SETA had paid R17 000 by the end of May.  The balance of R8 000 would be payable as soon as an initial audit of all payments made across the university sector was completed.

Grateful, nonetheless, for the relief regarding the 2020 tuition fee, Tshaka advises students in similar situations to “Take your education seriously. When you want something, have faith and, most importantly, explore establishing your own business with the skills that you have.”

During 2020/21, USAf, through its Directorate: Operations and Sector Support, administered close to R420 million worth of grants from the ETDP SETA to universities. Of the R280 million that was channelled into students’ bursaries and historical debt, R200m (71.4%) assisted at least 7000 unfunded undergraduate students across the public university system.  The other R80 million (28.6%) funded at least 2500 students in post-graduate studies. These bursaries were limited to tuition fees only.  While the bulk of the R420 million from the ETDP SETA has gone into students’ bursaries and historical debt, some of it will enhance technological capacity development in academics, in a programme set to continue until 2022.

Dr Linda Meyer, USAf’s Director: Operations and Sector Support, played and continues to play a leading role in partnership engagement related to this fundraising drive. But she maintains that without the hard administrative work and dedication put in by her directorate’s Project Office and the rest of the USAf Team, successful implementation of projects would have been impossible. “Securing funding is one thing. Much more work goes into ensuring that service level agreements are in place before funds are disbursed; that every penny goes to the most deserving individuals and that systems are in place to meet all reporting requirements in respect of these funds. This is where Team USAf, together with Financial Aid Offices at various universities, play critical roles.”

USAf is doing all of this as part of its broader support to its member institutions, and in keeping with one of its goals to facilitate student access to higher education, their retention in the system and, ultimately, their success. Even though the bursaries are a once-off benefit, the anecdotes received from the students themselves, including Mbuso Ngubane’s, are proving that this intervention has responded to an enormous need.

The writer, Khutso Moleko, is a Digital Communication Consultant contracted to Universities South Africa.

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