DEPARTMENT of Higher Education and Training Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, says the demand for student funding has increased due to the impact of COVID-19.
He told journalists on Thursday that the funding of university and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) college students through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) went up by 107% from R20 billion in 2018 to R42 billion in 2021.
“As the government, it is our duty to make sure that all those with potential are not prohibited by the lack of funds and we are proud of what this new board has delivered,” he said.
The Minister was addressing the media on the launch of the NSFAS funding applications for the 2022 academic year, which will open on 2 November 2021.
In the 2020 academic year, the Minister said the third year of the implementation of fully-subsidised funding for students, those benefitting from the DHET Bursary Grant for university and TVET college scholars amounted to 751 858 students. Of these, 489 912 were university students, while 261 404 attended TVET colleges.
In addition, those funded by other government departments, such as the Department of Basic Education Funza Lushaka Bursary Scheme, the National Skills Fund and Sector Education and Training Authority increased by 45.4% from 346 966 in 2018 to 504 366 in 2020.
The department’s data shows that the demographic profile in the same year comprised of Africans at 92.9%, Coloured at 4.2%, Indians at 0.7%, Whites at 0.9% and others at 1.4%.
The number of females who received NSFAS bursaries in 2020 increased by 30.6% from 360 344 in 2018 to 470 696 female students funded in 2020.
“This is similar to the overall representation of female undergraduate students in the public university sector.”
In addition, Nzimande said the 2020 academic year saw 1 421 university students with disabilities compared to 1 921 students in the previous year, a decrease of 26%.
“This is a concern to me and I will give this focused attention.”
According to the Minister, students with disabilities fall within the maximum threshold of up to R600 000 of combined gross family income per annum.
In addition, the bursary also provides students with assistive devices such as wheelchairs, hearing aids and adapted laptops, and human support.
The Minister also noted that the NSFAS funding increased from R5.9 billion in 2014/15 to about R35 billion in 2020/21.
“As you know, additional funding was reprioritised to support a shortfall in 2021/22, the current financial year, taking the total NSFAS budget to approximately R42 billion,” he explained.
“This is a significant contribution by government to supporting access to higher education and success of students from poor and working-class backgrounds.”
The Minister said he was proud of the scheme’s achievement as studies show that NSFAS recipients perform on average at a higher level compared to the whole cohort of undergraduate students.
“This shows that the financial support interventions of government do have a positive effect.”
The Minister announced the appointment of a Ministerial Task Team (MTT) to look at student funding policy issues for the future.
The team will develop policy proposals for a long-term student financial aid policy that will zoom into the comprehensive student financial aid needs of the post-school system.
The TTM will also look into alternative funding sources to widen funding for missing middle and postgraduate students.
“Although government has increased funding exponentially for students in TVET colleges and universities, we remain concerned about categories of students who struggle to afford higher education and the growing levels of student debt.”