South Africa

HIGHER EDUCATION

Crowdfunding platforms step in to alleviate South Africa’s student debt crisis

Crowdfunding platforms step in to alleviate South Africa’s student debt crisis

With no solution in sight for student debt in South Africa’s higher education system — reported to be more than R16.5bn — many students are turning to crowdfunding platforms for help.

While student debt in SA remains stubbornly high with no solution to the crisis in sight, thousands of higher education students are looking to digital crowdfunding platforms to raise funds to help alleviate their debt.

WeSolve4X student debt stokvel is one of many organisations helping students solve the problem of debt through crowdfunding.

The stokvel operates by asking South Africans to donate R100 (or more) monthly to alleviate student debt. 

In 2022, the initiative raised R1.5-million to help clear the debt of 22 students. That was R200,000 more than was raised in 2021, according to WeSolve4X founder Tsietsi Ngobese. The programme is still running this year and has received more than 10,000 applications from students who need assistance with clearing their debt.

Ngobese encouraged students to continue applying and South Africans to donate to the stokvel. Applications and donations can be made through the WeSolve4X website. 

Ngobese says he started WeSolve4X in the aftermath of the #FeesMustFall protests to help fellow students. 

Ngobese was financially excluded from the University of Witwatersrand in 2015 and had to complete his studies at the University of Free State.

Kabelo Maupa, a beneficiary of WeSolve4X, said: “I am considered to be a ‘missing-middle student’. This essentially means that I do not qualify to receive funding from institutions such as NSFAS [National Student Financial Aid Scheme] because of my family’s income bracket, but in the same token, I do not come from a rich family which would be able to comfortably put me through varsity. My parents simply could not afford to put me through varsity, which meant that I had to find alternative ways to fund my studies.

“Owing exorbitant amounts of money in tuition fees was very stressful. I unfortunately even had to acquire a medical intervention to treat the severe emotional and mental challenges that came with funding my education to complete my degree.

“It often felt like, regardless of the sacrifices one could make to save extra money that could potentially be invested in furthering my education, it was still insufficient to fully fund my education without sacrificing something of comparable value.  

“Luckily, WeSolve4X student debt stokvel has afforded me the opportunity to further my education and complete my degree. At the end of last year, I was owing Wits an amount of R40,825.24 which prevented me from graduating in April. When WeSolve4X settled this debt on my behalf, they not only alleviated the financial burden of higher education fees on myself and my family, but also relieved the emotional stress of having debt that we simply could not afford to pay.”

Chadwin Teixeira, another beneficiary of WeSolve4X, explained how student debt has affected his life:

“My experience with student debt has been quite stressful. I have had this hanging over my head for quite some time. The constant pull does take a toll on one’s day-to-day [life]. I have not been able to make many future plans with the constant debt over [my head]. The debt also withheld my qualification. That also makes getting specific job roles difficult. I am quite fortunate that I have found a position that understood that I don’t have my qualification at the time.”


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‘The government hasn’t helped’

Teixeira said the debt relief allowed him to plan freely for a future that won’t be hindered by his student debt. When asked whether he believes the government is doing enough to solve student debt, Teixeira said:

“I certainly don’t. There are so many roadblocks that I have encountered when it comes to student debt and when it came to my age that I had to repay for my previous mistakes. The government hasn’t even helped many of my peers to even get work, which will allow them to be able to pay their debts themselves.

“An openness to even have these jobs, without the restriction of qualifications, which students struggle to even pay for, is the major issue when it comes to their assistance in helping with student debts.”

The Feenix public benefit organisation is another platform that was launched in response to the #FeesMustFall movement to help students struggling with debt. 

It works a little differently from WeSolve4X in that it assists public university students with debts via three channels:

  1. Students share their personal stories on crowdfunding platforms to raise funds for their outstanding university fees;
  2. Providing a bursary programme whereby organisations provide funding to university students with outstanding student debt; and
  3. Providing students with holistic development support to ensure they thrive in university and in the working world.

Since its establishment in 2017, Feenix has paid out R144-million to settle the debts of more than 3,000 students.

“What we have experienced since launching in 2017 is that with the issue of funding tertiary education and dealing with the mounting student debts, there is no one-size-fits-all solution,” Feenix CEO Cara-Jean Petersen told Newzroom Afrika in an interview.

Petersen said students come from different backgrounds and have different needs and financial requirements and Feenix tries to match those needs with communities that are willing to help.

“The solution to [the] student debt or funding crisis can be resolved by exploring different partnerships to meet the various needs,” she said.

Petersen added that while Feenix began as a start-up and is now scaling up, its vision and mission remain the same. 

“It is to ensure more young people can successfully (within the intended timeframe and with minimum debt) graduate with a degree or diploma from a university or tertiary institution. This will be realised by connecting more students with funders and communities that can increase their access to financial and other needed resources and tailoring our support services to students’ needs.”

Khula Bursary Company heads another programme that works with universities to help students deal with debt. The company targets “100% Black beneficiaries who are South African Citizens, Disabled, Youth, and Living in a Rural Area”.

It has reported having assisted at least 23 students who qualified and received full financial support to resolve their debt issues and receive their academic papers during the financial year of 2020 to 2021. DM

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