Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande on Thursday 11 March 2021 addressed the media with regards to National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) funding and rising student debts.

The Cabinet met on Wednesday and discussed the matter of the funding shortfall at NSFAS. Nzimande said government remains committed to support deserving students with access to higher education.

Breakdown of higher education funding

Cabinet agreed to a comprehensive review of the student funding policy and will be looking carefully “at the funding requirements to support students in financial need in the post-school education and training system”.

“I hope that today we have provided some assurance of the commitment of our government to addressing the funding needs of students from poor and working-class backgrounds in our higher education system, albeit under extreme difficult fiscal conditions”.

Nzimande explained that this will be used to “model the holistic requirements of students, including those from poor and working-class backgrounds as well as the missing middle”.

NSFAS Funding shortfall

He said NSFAS will release funds for new students who meet the qualifying criteria for NSFAS bursary support, and that they will be allowed to register.

This is urgent and should be finalised before March “as some universities are already starting their academic programmes”.

The remaining universities will commence with their academic programmes in March and April 2021. He calls on institutions and NSFAS to complete this process as quickly and smoothly as possible.

NSFAS Bursary Guidelines

In addition to the above, the department of higher education will finalise the funding NSFAS Bursary Guidelines for university students within the next week. Once completed, it will be released to institutions as soon as possible.

Nzimande explained that the “changes are being kept to a minimum in order not to affect the administration of the DHET Bursary Scheme in public institutions”

Funding for undergraduate qualifications

Nzimande reiterated that the core parameters of NSFAS policy for 2021 would be to primarily fund students who are completing a first undergraduate qualification.

NSFAS has in the past “provided funding for some limited second qualifications in key areas”, but it will not be the case going forward. However, Nzimande added that students who are already funded on these programmes will be able to continue as long as they meet the academic criteria.

“There will be no funding available for new entrants on second or postgraduate qualifications, as the latter is the responsibility of the National Research Foundation. The only exception is that students who have completed Higher Certificates and gain access to a degree or diploma programme are able to receive funding if they meet the academic and financial criteria”.

National Skills Fund (NSF) and Agri-SETA

Nzimande also announced the department will be providing bursaries to approximately 4 000 agricultural students who meet the criteria, thanks to the National Skills Fund (NSF) and the Agri-SETA joint venture.

“Such students are currently not being funded by NSFAS. This will also ensure that we continue to step up support for black small-scale farmers and the implementation of the poultry master plan and the sugar master plan, amongst others”.

He said the department of higher education will “work very closely with the Department of Agriculture and Agrarian reform to also restore the physical infrastructure of these Agricultural Colleges”.

Now read: Nzimande calls for “calm” at universities

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Presh JM Reporter

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