State scrambling to find money it can divert to NSFAS
Share this article:
Johannesburg - The government is scrambling to find money it can divert to the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and avoid leaving thousands of poor students out of universities.
Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Blade Nzimande said on Monday that his team was working with the National Treasury to address the NSFAS shortfall.
The shortfall threatened to leave thousands of first-time entering students out of tertiary education this year, despite their inability to afford fees. Due to the shortfall, the NSFAS has not been able to confirm to the cohort of prospective students whether it would fund them.
“I am aware this is causing great anxiety for prospective students and their families, given that the academic year is about to start and registration processes and induction programmes are already under way at the majority of institutions,” said Nzimande.
Spending relating to Covid-19 and the government’s budget cuts that precede the pandemic, were to blame for the NSFAS deficit, Nzimande said.
The pandemic saw students being given their NSFAS grants while they stayed at home and also led to the extension of the 2020 academic year.
“Second, we had budget cuts across government departments.
“Third, because of the deteriorating economic situation, many NSFAS applicants who were not previously meeting the funding requirements for NSFAS now do.
“The deteriorating situation associated with budget cuts started a long time ago, before Covid-19,” he said.
Universities have now been requested – and agreed – to extend their registration period for new students by two weeks.
This was while talks between Nzimande’s team and the National Treasury continued.
Nzimande said the talks were in line with the undertaking by Minister of Finance, Tito Mboweni, that the government remained committed to supporting deserving students through tertiary education.
Mboweni directed the Higher Education and Treasury departments to “identify policy and funding options”, said Nzimande.
“I can confirm that this work is under way and options will be presented to the Cabinet on Wednesday this week for consideration. We are doing everything possible to resolve this issue as a matter of extreme urgency,” added Nzimande.
Returning NSFAS-funded students had nothing to worry about as long as they performed well, he said.
The South African Students Congress (Sasco) blasted the government over austerity measures it was imposing on higher education. and said it was mobilising unions and civil organisations for “mass rolling actions against the austerity measures”.