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Sunday, August 14, 2022

Growing concern over low number of students with disabilities getting NSFAS support in SA

THE National National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) supports fewer than 1 800 students living with a disability.

Briefing the media last week, Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande said the department and the NSFAS would continue to support 1 770 students with disabilities – who received a comprehensive set of allowances from the scheme – for the current academic year.

“We have committed that students with disabilities will qualify for NSFAS if they come from families who are not only earning up to R350 000 (a year), but who are earning up to R600 000 per annum because of this government’s commitment to assist those of our people and students with disabilities,” Nzimande said.

The NSFAS Disability Bursary Programme provides financial support to students with disabilities who require financial aid and possess the ability to pass their academic subjects.

It is intended to open opportunities in higher education, provide the necessary additional teaching and support for students to overcome learning barriers resulting from disabilities.

Assistance provided includes assistive devices, meals, tuition, transport, human support and accommodation.

At the beginning of this year, Nzimande said additional funding would be allocated to NSFAS, following a shortfall. An amount of R47.3 billion was subsequently allocated to cover both TVET colleges and public universities.

Nzimande said NSFAS had confirmed funding for 691 432 students for the current academic year.

Western Cape Network on Disability (WCND) deputy chairperson Dr Michelle Botha said: “This is a worryingly low number of students, but there are obviously major systemic issues that prevent people with disabilities from entering tertiary education in the first place, not just the availability of funds.”

WCND chairperson Anthony Ghillino said the low figure highlights challenges and barriers faced by people with disabilities when it comes to acquiring skills that will lead to employment.

“With such a low percentage of funding going to people with disabilities, we cannot be surprised that employment targets of 2% of the workforce being people with disabilities are being missed.

“People with disabilities must have the opportunity to access tertiary education facilities so that they too can reach their full potential, become economically active and contribute to the growth of our economy and society as a whole,” Ghillino said.

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