THE long-awaited ministerial task team report on student funding has not been released to the Cabinet and the portfolio committee for comments and inputs, yet Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande on the eve of him stepping down as the leader of the SACP is jumping the gun to pronounce that the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) will fund all poor and working-class students ahead of the report being released.
We are reminded of a similar stunt pulled by former President Jacob Zuma in 2016 ahead of the Higher Education Commission report. It is time that this long-awaited report be presented for public comment as soon as possible to avoid a looming crisis.
The financial sustainability of fee-free higher education over the last three years has been a serious concern.
Contribution towards the NSFAS bursary in 2018 was R20.6 billion which grew to R49 billion (R10 billion additional funds added to cover the shortfall) for the 2022 academic year. In 2018, 522 176 applications were received and in 2022 more than 900 000 applications were received.
This is an indication that it will not be possible to bail out NSFAS in future and therefore it is urgent to look at a more sustainable funding framework which will incorporate all students (missing- middle and post-graduates).
Socialist grandstanding cannot erase the fact that a more sustainable student funding framework is needed which can only be achievable through the involvement of all government departments and the private sector.
A sustainable funding model can only be achieved as follows:
When the system is geared towards equity to offer students from low-income households comprehensive support and provide proportional assistance to those in the missing middle bracket;
Setting up a national fund for student framework which should encompass multiple funding sources offering students a variety of funding options through a single application process.
Streamlining funding towards degrees, diplomas and courses geared towards demands in the job market; and
Streamlining undergraduate funding more towards TVET colleges.
The ministerial task team report must be put to the test through public inputs, especially inputs from National Treasury on NSFAS bursary sustainability and whether funding should be geared towards Higher Education institutions for their growth and sustainability.
Chantel King is the DA Shadow Minister for Higher Education.