THE National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has been unable to finalise funding for new university students after the scheme faced a funding shortfall for 2021.
This is according to the higher education minister Blade Nzimande, speaking on Monday during a media briefing in Pretoria.
Nzimande said that budget cuts and the COVID-19 pandemic were to blame for the shortfall in NSFAS funding.
Nzimande said that due to COVID-19, NSFAS had to continue paying allowances to students, even at the time when universities were closed, to give students access to multimodal learning and teaching.
“This means we had an extended academic year, for which we did not allocate additional money,” Nzimande.
Another reason for the shortfall, Nzimande said, was due to budget cuts across government departments, as well as the deteriorating economic situation.
NSFAS had a budget of nearly R35bn in 2020, up from R32bn in the previous year. It funded 700,000 students in 2020. Nzimande was unable to confirm if it would fund more or fewer students this year.
Nzimande said many applicants, who previously did not meet the funding requirements for NSFAS, now do, as the majority of their parents lost their jobs due to COVID-19.
“Of cause not all these shortfalls are due to COVID-19 alone. The deteriorating situation associated with budget cuts started a long time ago before COVID-19. In terms of the laws and policies regulating public finances for departments and entities, including the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), NSFAS is not able to commit to funding students without the requisite budget available to support this commitment,” Nzimande said.
Nzimande said the department has made an agreement with all public universities to extend the registration period for first time entering students for two weeks, so that students are not disadvantaged by the delay in the finalisation of NSFAS funding.
The minister said NSFAS is going to fund all returning NSFAS beneficiaries who meet the academic and other relevant criteria for continuing their studies.
In this regard, he said, the usual processes will apply, whereby institutions share the relevant registration data and information with NSFAS, which is then able to confirm the funded lists of students with institutions.
During the Budget Vote Speech on 24 February 2021, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said government remains committed to ensuring that deserving students are supported.
In line with this commitment, Mboweni directed the Department of Higher Education and Training to work with National Treasury to identify policy and funding options to be detailed in the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS).
Nzimande confirmed that this work is underway, and options will be presented to Cabinet on Wednesday for consideration.
“The student funding policy is the responsibility of government as a whole, and as the Minister responsible for higher education and training, I have to get concurrence and approval by Cabinet. We are doing everything possible to resolve this issue as a matter of extreme urgency,” Nzimande said.
Nzimande said the funding guidelines for universities for 2021 will be finalised as soon as Cabinet makes a determination in this regard.
(SOURCE: INSIDE EDUCATION & Agencies)