Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister Blade Nzimande. Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Parliament - The national bursary scheme for students from families earning up to R350 000 a year will see R102.4 billion disbursed over the next three years, Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister Blade Nzimande said on Friday.

Nzimande said the new bursary scheme, which was introduced last year, would by 2022, cover about half of all students at public universities as it was made available to new entrants every year.

"It will be phased in at universities over five years, with the new first-time cohort added each year. By 2022, the scheme will cover all cohorts of students across the university system. The scheme will support approximately 50 percent of the undergraduate student population at public universities," he said in the budget vote speech for his department. 

"The substantial investment in poor and working-class students over the 2019 MTEF (medium term expenditure framework), amounts to R82 billion for university students and R20.4 billion for TVET college students."

The scheme is administered through the troubled National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), which was placed under administration in August.

Nzimande said since the appointment of the administrator, there had been "significant improvements in the operations" of the scheme and this made for a more successful student registration process at the beginning of the year.

"The focus is to ensure the immediate short-term stability of NSFAS and put in place effective policies and systems to ensure that funding gets to the qualifying students on time and that they are effectively supported to succeed in their studies."

He added that a specialist ministerial team would be appointed in the coming months to assess the root causes of the policy and capacity problems at NSFAS.

"In addition, we will be working closely with NSFAS to ensure a smooth transition period between the Administrator and new management and governance teams of NSFAS."

Democratic Alliance MP Belinda Bozzoli said it was impossible to approve a budget for a troubled department that was so casual about oversight that entities like NSFAS, "a R30 billion organisation", have consistently failed to brief Parliament's portfolio committee on higher education on how they manage their funding.

"It does not appear to trouble our colleagues in the ANC," she said.

African News Agency/ANA