NSFAF funded foreign study is unaffordable

NSFAF can no longer support Namibians attending foreign universities. The little money that remains in state coffers, cannot be stretched that far.

All students that have completed half of their requirements (for example) could be funded to finish. But, all others must return and the program shut down.

NSFAF funds are loans. Those receiving them should be allowed to spend them on the education of their choosing. Unpredictable foreign exchange fluctuations; the high cost of sending money; and the lack of funds to assist students in emergency situations, makes the program untenable.

There are good reasons to support foreign study for those who qualify. But, the nation is regularly bombarded with heart-wrenching stories of students studying in foreign countries that have no food, no supplies, and no money. Some complain that they are victims of racist treatment. Promises of funds were made, but the government cannot comply on time or in the amounts needed.

Some overseas study programs are co-sponsored with governments or NGOs as a part of official agreements. Others are programs chosen by students to pursue a field of their choosing. Regardless of the arrangement, it is not working when students have no food to eat.

Some students get desperate for money. They are tempted to resort to dicey methods of finding money just to find food or buy supplies. The inability to send money when it was promised could force our young people to make bad choices.

The recent tales of woe from students in Cuba are typical. The students were paid less than what they need and even that arrived late. Then, they were erroneously promised a flight delivering care packages. Air Namibia is grounded and chartered plans need huge upfront payments in hard currency. There is no money for this.

The travails of Namibian students in Wuhan, the place where the pandemic first started is downright terrifying. They were in the eye of the virus storm without funds, unable to leave their rooms, no free internet, no contact, no classes, and no options – for months.

Namibians in South Africa were complaining about the rampage of the disease in that country. They were flown home on emergency flights only to have a disproportionate number of them test positive for the pandemic.

Students who study medicine or engineering abroad have difficulties getting their foreign credentials accepted or to find jobs. This is completely absurd since the government paid for their degrees in the first place. Are foreign programs vetted academically by NSFAF before students are funded to go there?

Some of the rejection in Namibia of their training is political (non-RSA courses of study are often assumed to be questionable). Some of the reason is racism as credentialing boards are full of people from the previous dispensation. And some degrees are rejected for good cause. There are cases of dental graduates (for example) who never touched a patient during their course of classroom study. How then, can they be licensed to practice?

There are major administrative and accountability struggles with NSFAF funds sent abroad. There are reports that middleman agencies locally hired to handle study visas, provide living quarters, and other issues, are taking their ‘cut’ and then providing insufficient services. Apparently, no one with punitive authority is supervising this.

Since the pandemic and South Africa’s financial problems, the value of their Rand has been as weak as 20ZAR to 1 USD. This greatly affects Namibia and our ability to provide needed funds to the students abroad. People are blind to the fact that the Namibia dollar is a soft currency. It cannot help students studying abroad.

NSFAF loans for study abroad was an unsustainable promise when it was first made. It has been unsustainable for years and remains unsustainable now. Change must happen.

Embassies have no specific budget to accommodate these students, nor should they. Their mandate is significantly larger than that. Too many people are unfairly blaming embassies for the poor conditions of the students in those countries. Embassies do what they can to help ALL Namibians abroad. Some missions play a major role in advancing cash to students while they strain their financial obligations to await slow refunds from NSFAF.

The pandemic has given a wake-up call to the need to do things differently. Funding for foreign study must be done differently.

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