Grandmother and student battle to pay loan

Karabo owes UCT R70,000

Photo of UCT

Upper campus at the University of Cape Town at the end of the academic year in 2015. Photo: Masixole Feni

By Ashleigh Furlong

29 March 2016

Achille Mbembe has described the role of debt in last year’s student protests. In this three-part series, students describe their financial problems.

Part Two: Karabo

UCT psychology student Karabo (not his real name) was raised by his grandmother in Limpopo after his mother passed away 11 years ago. He came to UCT in 2013, but from his first year, he began using dagga. It became a habit that prevented him from being able to study.

“I started having some problems in my second year and started really failing in my third year,” said Karabo.

He had National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) funding for his first and second year, but because he did not pass half of his subjects, he was unable to secure NSFAS funding for his third year. This resulted in R100,000 debt accumulating in 2015 in course and residence fees.

His grandmother has been able to raise R30,000 to date, but Karabo is unsure if he will be able to continue at UCT.

“Towards the end of last year, I became very suicidal,” said Karabo.

He said he has been seeing a psychologist since his first year at university, but it was only in third year that with the help of his psychologist he realised that his problems resulted from smoking marijuana.

“I started dealing with the issues,” said Karabo. “I went to quite a few curriculum advisors and I went to see the psychologist again.”

He booked into a drug treatment programme as an outpatient, and overcame his addiction.

“But I couldn’t get back to my school work properly,” said Karabo. He was in treatment towards the end of the year at exam time. As a result Karabo was academically excluded during his third year at university. He appealed to the university towards the end of 2015 and his appeal was accepted.

Despite this, he was not successful securing NSFAS funding. Karabo said that “NSFAS kept on saying that I didn’t pass enough [courses]”.

In Karabo’s first appeal to UCT’s financial aid office in 2016, his grandmother stated that she would pay off the debt. “My grandmother is retired, but she is willing to try,” said Karabo.

He said that his grandmother would also ask the family to help out.

This appeal to the financial aid office was rejected as there was no payment plan. On 10 March 2016, Karabo’s grandmother resubmitted the appeal but this time with the payment plan. They have yet to hear back from the university.

“I don’t know exactly how she is going to fund it [the repayment plan],” he said.

Karabo’s uncle also tried to secure a loan to help pay off his nephew’s debt, but he was unsuccessful.

Karabo said that after the student protests last year, he saw promises like “no student will be left behind because of lack of funding”.

“They [the University] said that if you are academically eligible they will find a way,” he said.

He said that there are lots of people being financially excluded. “It’s like the university isn’t even meeting us halfway to really try and understand,” he said. “They just gave us a little more rope to hang ourselves.”

UCT’s Manager of Media Liaison and Communications Pat Lucas confirms that Vice-Chancellor Max Price did indeed say that, “No student will be turned away simply on the basis of financial need.”

However, she said, in order to qualify for funding “a student must be accepted to UCT on academic merit; meet the financial conditions; and maintain good academic standing at the university”.

She said that following the “debt to loan” plan, 700 students who had debt and did not meet the requirements appealed to the Financial Aid Appeals Committee and of these 422 were successful.

“Some had improved their performance following loss of financial aid the previous year or were in their final year of study,” she said.

“A total of 157 appeals were unsuccessful. The majority of these students did not meet the academic or financial eligibility set out by NSFAS or UCT,” said Lucas. 

UCT’s counselling service can be accessed via the Student Wellness Service at 28 Rhodes Ave, Mowbray or telephone: 021 650 1017/1020.

LifeLine: 021 461 1111 / 3

Read part one and part  three.

Correction: The article originally stated that Karabo appealed to NSFAS regarding his financial situation. It was actually to UCT’s financial aid office which handles NSFAS applications.