LERATO Morake* lives in a two-bedroom apartment in Pretoria. She drives a sleek, silver Audi to her job, where she earns R440 000 per annum.
She also has no plans to pay back the almost R200 000 she owes to NSFAS because no one has been around to collect.
Frustrated students across the country have protested a lack of funding provided for needy students by the National Student Financial Aids Scheme (NSFAS).
NSFAS is suffering a shortfall due in part to students not repaying their loans and replenishing the fund’s coffers.
But former students who are now successful say there is no reason to repay NSFAS because the scheme does not try to collect.
Morake started working in 2008 and said NSFAS has not attempted to reclaim any funds from her.
“They are not even trying to do anything, they aren’t even trying our phones, my number is the same number I used when I applied and they never even tried to call me,” Morake said.
They could’ve just used my ID number and the details of the people that owe them, then through that they can get us to pay back.
According to the NSFAS website, once a student starts working and earns more than R30 000 a year, they must pay back part of the loan. Meaning you would only pay back R900 a year on a salary of R30 000 a year, or R84 per month. A small price to pay considering the interest charged on the loan is subsidised at 80% of the rate that commercial banks would charge.
Students sign a legal contract to repay their loans and the scheme promises to “contact all students who graduate or stop studying to give consent for repayments to be deducted from their bank account every month,” according to the NSFAS website.
But this hasn’t been the experience of Morake: “I don’t think they tried to find me, I read somewhere in the papers that they were trying to find people but, because they are a government financial institution, if they wanted to catch us out, they could’ve gone to SARS, [SA Revenue Service]” she said.
“They could’ve just used my ID number and the details of the people that owe them, then through that they can get us to pay back,” she said.
Morake only knows how much she owes because of a statement she once saw at her cousin’s house in Croydon a few years ago. Her cousin has moved three times since then.
“My aunt also went through this programme, I think about seven years ago and she still hasn’t finished paying for it, so it’s just like donating money and no one sees where it’s going,” Morake said.
NSFAS receives a budget from government, which it then uses to provide a scholar with funds to pay for tuition, accommodation and books.
NSFAS was introduced by government in 1996 to provide poor matric-holders access to a university education. Students have their annual tuition paid and receive the rest of the amount for books and other course material as credit, not as cash, to avoid misuse.
NSFAS offers an income-dependent loan, meaning the student only begins to repay the loan once they start earning an income.
Morake received her undergraduate degree in corporate communications and development studies at the University of Johannesburg in 2008 and since then has worked at three different companies.
Her studies have resulted in her getting a job as a corporate communications consultant for a popular fast food franchise.
At the time she applied for NSFAS, Morake’s mother was unemployed and looked after their home in Alexandra township. Her dad could not afford to pay for her schooling as he did not earn much as a handyman and electrician.
I told them to send the banking details and stuff but they didn’t bother so I didn’t pay.
The cost of paying back a loan is burdensome, especially for an individual just entering the workforce and trying to start out their lives.
“When I first started working I worried, I said to myself, ‘okay, this is your first job, they said you have to pay them back or else they’ll find you’, so I called the call centre, they proofed my details then they told me I had to pay 10 percent of my salary and it was a ridiculous amount for me at the time,” Morake said.
Still, Morake told NSFAS to send her the relevant details to begin repaying her loan. However, the scheme never followed up with her.
“I told them to send the banking details and stuff but they didn’t bother so I didn’t pay,” she said.
“I just didn’t want to be the only one paying.”
Lerato is planning on studying further. She wants to do her honours in management but does not plan on using NSFAS again.
“This time I’ll pay for it myself, it would just be greedy otherwise,” she said.
*not her real name
Wits Vuvuzela, The devil wears NSFAS, February 27,