Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said the extension would ensure that none of the first-time students were disadvantaged by the delay in the finalisation of confirmation of their funding by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.
HIGHER Education Minister Blade Nzimande said his department had agreed with universities to extend the registration period for new students for two weeks.
Nzimande said the extension would ensure that none of the first-time students were disadvantaged by the delay in the finalisation of confirmation of their funding by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).
He made the statement when he briefed the media on NSFAS not being able to confirm funding eligibility for first-time students wishing to study in public universities this year.
“I am aware that this is causing great anxiety for prospective students and their families, given that the academic year is about to start and registration processes and induction programmes are already under way at the majority of institutions.
“This situation has also put considerable pressure on institutions, which have been unable to finalise their admissions and registration processes.”
Nzimande told the media that NSFAS was facing a shortfall on its funding for 2021.
“It has been unable to confirm funding for new university students.”
He blamed the shortfall in funding on a few factors, including the Covid-19 pandemic.
“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.”
The other reasons were a result of budget cuts across government departments as well as the deteriorating economic situation where many NSFAS applicants who were not previously meeting the funding requirements for the bursary had become eligible as a majority of them qualified because their parents had lost their jobs.
“Of course, 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,” Nzimande said.
However, he stated that NSFAS could not commit to funding students without the requisite budget available to support this commitment as the Public Finance Management Act barred them from doing so.
“I am, however, pleased to formally announce and confirm today that NSFAS is going to be funding all returning NSFAS 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.”
Nzimande also said work was under way and options would be presented to Cabinet this week for consideration to ensure deserving students were supported through higher education.
Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, during the Budget Speech, directed that the department work with the National Treasury to identify policy and funding options to be detailed in the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement.
“The student funding policy is the responsibility of government as a whole, and as minister responsible for higher education and training, I too get concurrence and approval by Cabinet.
“We are doing everything possible to resolve this issue as a matter of extreme urgency.”
He said he consulted the universities, through Universities’ South Africa and also engaged with the South African Union of Students on the matters early this week.
“As a common practice, we will continue to consult all the PSET stakeholders on any developments within the sector to ensure that there is no stakeholder that is left behind.”
– Political Bureau