The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) is facing a shortfall on its funding for this year and it has, therefore, been unable to confirm funding eligibility for first-time university students.
This does not apply to returning NSFAS beneficiary students who meet the academic and other relevant criteria for continuing their studies, Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister Blade Nzimande confirmed on March 8.
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.
In terms of the funding shortfall, Nzimande explained that it was mainly as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, during which NSFAS allowances still had to be paid even though universities were closed.
This means that during the extended academic year, NSFAS did not initially allocate the additional money.
Budget cuts across government departments also influenced funding decisions, alongside the deteriorating economic situation, with many NSFAS applicants who previously did not meet funding requirements, now doing so.
Owing to Covid-19, many applicants now qualify owing to parents having lost their jobs during the course of the pandemic, or as a result thereof.
In terms of the laws and policies regulating public finances for departments and entities, including the Public Finance Management Act, Nzimande indicated that “NSFAS is not able to commit to funding students without the requisite budget available to support this commitment”.
He further referred to Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s National Budget Speech last month, during which the Minister had indicated that “government remains committed to ensuring that deserving students are supported through higher education”.
In line with this commitment, Mboweni directed the Department of Higher Education and Training to work with the National Treasury to identify policy and funding options to be detailed in the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement, due to be delivered later this year.
Nzimande confirmed that this work was under way and said options would be presented to Cabinet later 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 need to get concurrence and approval by Cabinet,” he said, noting that “everything possible” is being done to resolve the issue as “a matter of extreme urgency”.
The funding guidelines for universities for this year will be finalised as soon as Cabinet has made a determination in this regard.
Additionally, to ensure that none of the first-time students are disadvantaged by the delay in funding finalisation, all universities will extend their registration periods for first-time students by two weeks.