We don’t have the money to fund new university students: minister

Higher Education minister Blade Nzimande says that the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) does not have sufficient funding for the 2021 academic year.

In a statement on Monday (8 March), the minister said that this lack of money means that the NSFAS has not yet been able to confirm funding eligibility for first-time entering students wishing to study in public universities in 2021.

“NSFAS is facing a shortfall on its funding for 2021, which means that it has been unable to confirm funding for new university students,” he said.

Nzimande said that there are few reasons why the scheme is facing this shortfall – but a primary reason is Covid-19.

“We had to continue to pay NSFAS allowances even at the time when universities were closed, as part of students’ access to multimodal teaching and learning.

“This means we had an extended academic year which we did not allocate additional money for. Secondly, we had budget cuts across government departments.”

Nzimande also highlighted the deteriorating economic situation, where many NSFAS applicants who were not previously meeting the funding requirements for NSFAS now do.

“Due to Covid-19  a majority of them qualifies because their parents lost their jobs in the process,” he said.

The minister added that the deteriorating situation associated with budget cuts started a long time before the pandemic hit.

“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.”

Working on a solution 

Nzimande said that that NSFAS will fund all returning beneficiaries students who meet the academic and other relevant criteria for continuing their studies.

“In this regard, the usual processes 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,” he said.

He added that work is underway and options will be presented to cabinet on Wednesday (10 March) this week for consideration.

The student funding policy is the responsibility of government as a whole, and as minister responsible for higher education and training, I to get concurrence and approval by cabinet.

“We are doing everything possible to resolve this issue as a matter of extreme urgency.

“The funding guidelines for universities for 2021 will be finalized as soon as cabinet has made a determination in this regard.”

He added that an agreement has been reached where all universities will extend their registration period for first-time students for two weeks, so that none of the first-time entering students are disadvantaged by the delay in the finalisation of this matter.

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We don’t have the money to fund new university students: minister