On the 1st of March 2023, the students’ representative council (SRC) at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits) announced a campus shutdown to protest against financial exclusion and ongoing housing issues, and it is still ongoing. As a former Wits student, I could not help but think back to the 2015 #FeesMustFall protest movement that I participated in along with thousands of fellow students who were also affected by a proposed increase in tuition fees at the university. It quickly spread to other universities across the country, with students organising protests and marches, occupying university buildings, and staging sit-ins.

For many young adults in South Africa, the dream of pursuing a higher education comes with a high price tag. With tuition fees skyrocketing and the cost of living increasing every year, it’s no wonder that the student debt crisis has become a major concern for many.

According to a report by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), student debt in South Africa currently stands at R13.6 billion. That’s a staggering amount of money, and it’s only expected to grow as more and more young adults pursue higher education.

So, what exactly is student debt, and how does it affect the lives of young adults in South Africa?

Student debt is money borrowed to pay for educational expenses, including tuition fees, books, and living expenses. This debt can take years to pay off and significantly impact a young adult’s financial well-being.

For many young adults in South Africa, student debt influences their career choices. They may pursue a higher-paying job over a career they are passionate about to pay off their debt faster. This can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction and unhappiness in their careers.

The high cost of higher education in South Africa results from several factors, including high tuition fees and the lack of government funding for higher education. While government-funded programs like the NSFAS provide financial assistance to students from low-income households, more is needed for living expenses.

To make matters worse, many students are forced to take out loans with high-interest rates to pay for their education. This can result in a lifetime of debt, with young adults struggling to pay off their loans well into their thirties and forties.

The student debt crisis in South Africa has real consequences for young adults, and we must take action to address it.

For those struggling with student debt, resources are available to help. Here are a few options to consider:

National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS): The NSFAS provides financial assistance to eligible students in South Africa. You can visit their website here to learn more about their programs and how to apply.

National Debt Advisors – This website provides debt counselling services for individuals struggling with debt. They offer free debt assessments and can help students develop a debt repayment plan. See their website here.

Debt Rescue – Debt Rescue is a debt counselling and debt review company that provides debt management services to South African consumers. They offer a range of resources and advice on their website, including debt calculators and budget planners. See their website here.

JustMoney – JustMoney is a personal finance website that offers advice and resources on managing debt, including student debt. They provide articles, tools, and calculators to help students make informed decisions about their finances. See their website here.

EduFunding – EduFunding is a platform that helps students find funding opportunities for their studies, including bursaries and scholarships. They also provide resources and advice on managing student debt. See their website here.

South African Human Rights Commission: The SAHRC provides legal assistance to individuals who are experiencing discrimination or other violations of their human rights, including those related to debt.

These are just a few resources available to help you if you’re struggling with student debt in South Africa. It’s important to note that while these websites can provide helpful information and resources, it’s always a good idea to seek professional advice from a financial advisor or debt counsellor if you’re struggling with debt.

It’s also crucial that we advocate for change at the policy level. The government must prioritise funding for higher education and work to make it more accessible and affordable for all young adults. We can also work to raise awareness about the student debt crisis and the impact it has on the lives of young adults in South Africa.

The high cost of higher education in South Africa is a challenge. Still, it’s one that we can overcome with the right resources and support. By taking advantage of financial assistance programs and seeking free financial counselling and debt management services, we can take control of our student loans and increase awareness about the student debt crisis. It’s important to remember that we are not alone in this struggle, and resources are available to help.

We can start by reaching out to our elected officials, sharing our stories, and advocating for increased government funding for higher education. We can also raise awareness about the student debt crisis and the resources available to help those struggling.

In the end, the student debt crisis in South Africa may seem daunting, but by working together, we can create a brighter future for all young adults. Let’s take action today and work towards a more accessible and affordable higher education system for all.


Tell us: How have you been affected by the high university fees in South Africa?

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