Student Debt Crisis Continues To Plague South African Youth

With the March 2021 protests against university student debts, it has become clear that few changes have been made to correct the ongoing issue around tertiary education funding. 



At the beginning of the 2021 academic year, university students all across the country were faced with the inconvenience of unpaid loans and uncleared debts. This resulted in their inability to re-register at universities despite having met the academic requirements.The debt crisis is a common issue amongst South African youth and it continues to afflict students each year.

The year of 2021 was no different, with protests across the country having erupted in March against the problem of academic exclusion due to unpaid historical debts. The Minister of Higher Education, Blade Nzimande had announced a plan in early March to decrease the amount of government resources that would go towards NSFAS funding. From thereon, the fire that once ignited the #FeesMustFall movement of 2015 manifested into the #WitsAsinamali campaign.

The protests then spread to universities all across the country, with students urging institutions to clear all historical debt for academically eligible students, and for national student funding to be increased.

The resurrection of these protests forced students to recognise the lack of institutional change in the area of tertiary education funding. This was not the first time that protests around the student debt crisis had arisen. The #FeesMustFall movement of 2015 is an earlier example of a call for more affordable education.

Six years later, the issue of affordable education still stands, with many institutions still charging full tuition despite the COVID-19 pandemic forcing many to work through online learning.

The 2021 protests ended with registration dates being extended, and students being granted the opportunity to register regardless of historical debt. However, the core issue for students remains that tertiary education is still not affordable for the average South African youth.

Therefore, the potential for even more protest in future remains likely, as institutions have only managed to provide a temporary solution to an ongoing problem.

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