Half a million students owe debt

06 May 2024 | By Lea Leathern
06 May 2024 | By Lea Leathern

Half a million students in South Africa have debt.

Between the NSFAS and private scholars, more than 155 000 will not be able to graduate this year because of student debt in South Africa.

The majority of which is either partially for fully funded through the corruption-riddled National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

According to The Citizen, Nzimande made the revelation in a recent parliamentary Q&A session. Despite more than half-a-million students owing universities, many institutions will still allow them to participate in graduation ceremonies and receive an academic transcript.

However, not all scholars will be so lucky, as 156 016 are not going to graduate or receive academic certificates at all. This is down to the discretion of the institutions, who are within their rights to withhold certification until outstanding debts are paid. Most major tertiary institutions participated in the analysis into student debt in South Africa, while some did not make their debt figures public. Here’s how they break down …

  • WITS University students owe R3.5 billion dating back to 2018. Currently, 4 557 students are unable to graduate with a total debt value of R298 million.
  • The University of Pretoria (UP) stakes claim to 60 043 scholars with outstanding student debt in South Africa. The cumulative debt amounts to R2.3 billion. As UP calls it, it has 1 327 degrees in safe keeping until the outstanding funds are paid.
  • University of Johannesburg (UJ) has around 33 000 students with outstanding debt. 14 537 of these are currently registered students and 18 796 are unregistered.
  • University of Cape Town UCT currently has 2 717 students that owe R128 million. As a result, 332 students will not graduate, receive certificates or a letter of completion until they’re fully paid-up.

As mentioned, the above numbers represent students who were funded by NSFAS at some point in their academic career. As well as those who owe money in their personal capacity. Interestingly, solely NSFAS-funded scholars are generally allowed to graduate. A practice that is done in good faith with the understanding that the government entity will eventually settle the debt with the university.