The embattled National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) is expected to receive an additional R10 billion to deal with administration pressure and improve its systems.
Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande conducted an on-site inspection on Thursday at the entity’s Halyard Building office in Cape Town to assess the systems ahead of the start of the 2024 academic year.
The TVET headcount for enrolment was 482 244 students, while universities received 270 000 applications for scarce skills.
NSFAS has received more than a million applications for funding, and this figure is set to rise. Only eight universities will accept late applications.
“Our institutions and TVET colleges are ready to receive new or returning students. Now here at NSFAS... the staff are hard at work and that must be acknowledged. The challenges are not employees who don’t want to put in the work, but it is systems in nature that need attention. There is a need to increase the administration budget. While NSFAS has been handling billions of rands, it never really had the administrative assistance that is required.
The call centre and IT system need to be improved – they are not up to the level they should be,” said Nzimande.
He also acknowledged that due to the entity not having capacity it would not be able to handle the administration of the new loan scheme for “missing middle” students on its own.
“We are in discussions about that and NSFAS will give further details next week on how students can access the loan. Other challenges are in the student accommodation and I want to be honest and frank about it.
“The entity is undertaking accreditation to ensure that students don’t sleep in environments that are not conducive and the process of doing this is moving slower than anticipated. NSFAS is engaging with institutions regarding this and regarding the loan scheme. I have instructed NSFAS that from the next few weeks it must place its energy now at key challenges that could hamper the smooth start of the academic year such as the R4.2bn registration fee... and deal with other matters later on because it is carrying a huge load,” said Nzimande.
UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said the institution has capacity to enrol 4 500 first-year students.
“The university received a total of 92 841 applications from prospective first-year students for admissions in 2024. It is important to note that this refers to the number of applications and not the number of applicants (which is lower as prospective students apply for more than one programme). UCT has about 8 200 accommodation places available in both UCT-owned and leased off-campus residences,” said Moholola.
Stellenbosch University spokesperson Martin Viljoen said the university can enrol about 5 600 first-year undergraduate students.
“SU received about 88 085 undergraduate first-year applications and nearly 21 000 applications for postgraduate study. This excludes undergraduate students who applied for postgraduate study in 2023.”
With issues of homeless students and evictions at TVET colleges, including Northlink, Higher Education director-general Nkosinathi Sishi acknowledged that the plan of deploying officials on the ground, as it will at universities, should have also been prioritised at colleges where classes have commenced.
Sishi instructed officials to assess the challenges at the college after the briefing. Accommodation providers were reportedly still waiting to hear whether NSFAS has approved their accommodation for returning and new students.