As the number of post-school education opportunities rise, Higher Education and Training Minister Dr Blade Nzimande on Monday said billions of rands would be made available to ensure hundreds of thousands of students gain access to universities and colleges across South Africa in 2016.
Briefing media on post–school education and training opportunities for the 2016 academic year, he explained that some R10-billion in student loans and bursaries had been set aside by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) for 205 000 first-time and continuing eligible students at universities and 200 000 students at technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges this year.
The National Skills Fund had also allocated R700-million to NSFAS to unlock full bursaries for students obtaining scarce and critical skills in the fields of science, commerce, health and engineering, besides others, in 2016 - an increase on the R562.9-million allocated last year.
For the 2016/17 financial year, government had committed some R6.9-billion to support university education, including R2.33-billion to ensure a 0% fee increase for 2016.
Just over R2.5-billion, through NSFAS, would be provided for loans to 71 753 identified students who qualified for NSFAS funding but were either partially, or not funded at all, over the past three academic years, with another R2-billion set aside for students who were already in the university system to complete their qualifications.
A Presidential commission would determine whether or not the promised 0% fee increase, which would create a R2.3-billion shortfall for the country’s universities, could be sustained beyond this year, along with potential free higher education.
“We have actually gone a long way to try and address the many issues raised [by students],” Nzimande commented.
Late last year, thousands of university students protested against proposed registration fee hikes, calling for any hikes to be scrapped and for higher education to be made free.
“We need to ensure, over the medium to long term, that sufficient financial aid is made available to support all academically deserving but financially needy university students through income contingent loans and bursaries and, at the same time, strive to keep university fees affordable,” he said.
Nzimande’s comments came as post-school opportunities available to the 2015 matriculants within the 26 universities, 50 TVET colleges and 21 sector education and training authorities (Setas) in the country increased from 425 095 in 2015 to 517 402 in 2016.
Currently, there were 212 472 new entrant opportunities at universities; 133 551 engineering and business studies opportunities at TVET colleges; 88 794 apprenticeship or learnership opportunities in collaboration with TVET colleges, Setas and employers; 30 750 new artisan learner opportunities; and 51 835 Seta-supported learning programme opportunities, including apprenticeships, bursaries, learnerships and skills and readiness programmes.
Of the 455 825 students successfully completing the 2015 National Senior Certificate, 166 263 had qualified for admission to bachelor studies and 183 720 for diploma studies at higher education institutions, with 105 770 learners qualifying for higher certificate studies.