Tuesday, 20 April 2021 15:56

Staff Reporter.

Higher Education and Training Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, has noted a significant increase in the budget allocation by government to fund the children of the working class through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

Nzimande said NSFAS funding, for instance, increased more than five-fold only in six years, from R5, 9 billion in 2014 to R34, 7 billion in 2020.

"In the current financial year, NSFAS funding is expected to reach over R43 billion, a further increase of close to R10 billion in just two years from 2020. From 2018, NSFAS has been funding its recipients for tuition, accommodation, meals, learning material allowances, daily allowance and, in some cases, a transport allowance.

"In addition, government policy (N+1) allows all NSFAS students an extra year within which to complete their certificates, diplomas or degrees [students studying for a three-year degree will be given only four years of funding], taking into account and catering for the fact that most of them come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

"Other than Cuba, we are not aware of any country in the world that provides such comprehensive higher education support for poor students. And all this is a free bursary that does not have to be paid back anymore since 2018," Nzimande said.

The Minister also noted that in 2017, NSFAS introduced and implemented a new funding system for all universities, termed the "Student-Centred" Model.

The system intended to provide an improved information technology platform for submitting and processing student applications, where students apply directly to NSFAS through an online application system and allocations to students are managed directly.

"In August 2018, an Administrator was appointed at NSFAS to, amongst other things, deal with the operational challenges relating to the introduction of the new funding system which ensured that students apply directly to NSFAS. The Administrator was also appointed to ensure improved systems and policy controls, and addressing backlog issues from previous funding cycles," Nzimande said.

He further noted that the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) developed guidelines on how the new DHET bursary would be implemented.

The Minister said standards were set up early in January 2018 based on research that NSFAS had undertaken.

"The government also made funds available to pay off the historic debt of NSFAS funded students incurred prior to the introduction of the DHET bursary in 2018, and there is also significant improvement in terms of controls at NSFAS and the payment of allowances," the Minister said.

The Minister reiterated that the main goal of the department and NSFAS is to ensure that financial aid reaches the right students timeously.

For the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector, the Minister said the department and NSFAS have put various mechanisms in place to address standard operating procedures for the administration of college fees and allowances, as well as the introduction of the NSFAS wallet payment system, to expedite payment of allowances.