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Support for students

Written by Allison Cooper

Government remains committed to ensuring that deserving students have financial support to continue with their studies.

The Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, says government is firmly committed to providing fee-free higher education support to students from working and poor backgrounds, while putting a mechanism in place to support students from the ‘missing middle’ income bracket.

He adds the department and universities have agreed that fee increases for 2021 will be affordable but will still ensure universities remain sustainable.

NSFAS shortfall addressed

A shortfall in funding for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) for 2021 meant NSFAS was unable to communicate funding decisions to institutions and students entering public universities for the first time. The Minister says funding has been reprioritised from the Department of Higher Edu-cation and Training’s (DHET) budget to ensure all deserving NSFAS-qualifying students receive funding support for 2021.

“NSFAS will be able to release funding decisions, and the registration process at pub-lic universities can continue as planned.

“No NSFAS-qualifying students have been affected by these delays, as universities had agreed to extend the registration period to ensure that students without funding decisions would not be prevented from accessing a place that they qualify for.”

He explains that NSFAS is working hard to finalise appeals so that students are not prevented from registering in time, and continuing students who meet the qualifying criteria have already been allowed to register.

NSFAS funding is provided primarily for students completing a first undergraduate qualification.

“In the past, NSFAS provided funding for some limited second qualifications in key ar-eas. Students who are already funded on these programmes will be able to continue as long as they meet the academic criteria,” says the Minister.

However, there is no funding available for new entrants on second or postgraduate qualifications.

“We will engage further with sector education and training authorities, where support may be available for programmes in particular areas, and to address areas of post-graduate funding where possible.”

Funding policy review

Cabinet has ordered an urgent review of government’s student funding policy and the DHET has started with this process.

“The purpose is to look carefully at funding requirements to support students in financial need in the post-school education and
training system, and to model the holistic requirements of students – including those from poor and working-class backgrounds and the missing middle,” the Minister says.

Both government and universities are concerned about growing student debt, which will be considered as part of the policy review.

Some student debt demands relate to students who are not funded by NSFAS but are doing well academically. The Minister will engage with university leadership teams to explore ways to ensure that final-year students are able to register for their final year through acknowledgment of debt arrangements.

DHET 2021 bursary scheme

The Minister says tuition and accommodation fee costs are provided for in line with the guidelines of the DHET bursary scheme for 2021, subject to the agreed consumer price index-linked sector-wide increases of 4.7% (tuition) and 6.7% (accommodation).

 “No funding can be provided by NSFAS in excess of these increases and neither can such costs be passed onto NSFAS bursary recipients,” he adds.

All NSFAS-qualifying university students on the DHET grant scheme (those registered before 2018) will be subject to the funding cap of R98 700.

For students on the DHET bursary scheme, the following will apply for the 2021 academic year:

  • Learning material allowance - R5200.
  • Living allowance for full time students in contact study - R15 000.
  • Incidental allowance - R2 900.
  •  Travel allowance - maximum of R7 500.

The National Skills Fund and Agricultural Sector Education and Training Authority joint funding will provide bursaries to approximately 4 000 students studying at agricultural colleges, using the NSFAS criteria.

“This funding will also ensure that we continue to step up support for black small-scale farmers and the implementation of the Poultry Master Plan and the Sugar Master Plan, amongst others.”

Contact CACH for help

Minister Nzimande appealed to students who applied on time for a place at public institutions but were not offered a place to study, to contact the Central Applications Clearing House (CACH) for help.

CACH also provides referrals to career development services and funding and skills development opportunities, including artisan programmes and learnerships.

To sign up, SMS your name and ID number to 31629. You will be called back free of charge. You can also register online at www.cach.dhet.gov.za