Minister Melusi Gigaba before delivering his Midterm Budget Speech in the National Sssembly, Cape Town. 25/10/2017, Elmond Jiyane, GCIS
JOHANNESBURG - The National Treasury would extend funding to 40percent of undergraduate students at a cost of R17.7billion in 2018 and further extend it to R61.7bn over the next three years.

The Treasury said that if the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) covered the full costs for 30 percent of undergraduates who qualify, the scheme would require about R10.7bn in the 2018 academic year, in addition to the R11.4bn currently available.

It said funding for higher education had become a second major cost pressure over the medium-term expenditure framework (MTEF).

Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba said the higher education budget was the fastest-growing element of expenditure.

“We cannot hope to grow and develop without the skills and intellectual capabilities that our universities and technical training colleges produce,” Gigaba said.

“Although the fiscal constraints we face are real and binding, we must make every effort to ensure no academically deserving student is excluded due to financial constraints.”

Last year, NSFAS provided financial assistance to 225950 university students whose family income was below R122000 a year. This amounted to nearly 30 percent of university undergraduates.

On Tuesday, Statistics South Africa said the country’s higher education institutions spent about R3bn in bursaries last year. Stats SA said public higher education institutions had a total income from operating activities of R67.4bn in the financial year ended December.

The Treasury said higher education costs would increase by 8.2percent from R77bn this year to R97bn in the 2010/21 financial year. It said basic education would also rise from R230bn currently to R286bn by 2021.

Free higher education protests over the past three years have put pressure on the government to find more funds.

The Treasury said there was a large gap in funding for technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges.

“Covering the full cost of study for all TVET students, while ensuring that adequate programme funding is available, would require an additional R7.1bn next year in addition to the R10bn already allocated, or R23.5bn over the next three years,” the Treasury said. The government planned to allocate R1.1bn over three years for infrastructure projects to improve accommodation in a move that would result in 300 000 new beds at public universities and TVET colleges by 2026.