While thousands of university students have been awaiting their overdue National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) funding, the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) has “plugged the gap” by footing the bill for pending and qualified students.
More than 95% of the first-year students who were NSFAS applicants received funding from the university. Out of 64 000 registered students, 34 000 returning NSFAS students were assisted with books and allowances.
Since the announcement of free higher education by then president Jacob Zuma in December, the university received more than 2 700 walk-in NSFAS applications this year, TUT chief financial officer S’celo Mahlalela told The Citizen.
But due to the university’s strategy of increasing the success rate for students to complete their studies in minimum time, Mahlalela said the university took the initiative to assist the majority of students who came from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“We are funding over 14 000 out of 15 000 first-year students with university money and they are receiving meals, books, transport allowance and accommodation,” Mahlalela said.
“Students will end up failing if they don’t have resources or food, so we took the decision to pay and assist them to get their education.”
Last week, leaders of student organisations the South African Union of Students and the South African Further Education and Training Student Association told parliament’s portfolio committee on higher education and training that students were hindered from getting their education since NSFAS had failed to pay out allowances.
NSFAS admitted there were problems since Zuma’s announcement, as the financial aid scheme had little time to put systems in place.
But this only had a small effect on TUT, Mahlalela said, since the funding strategy resulted in a R50 million deficit – a small percentage of the R4 billion budget.
“We are the people’s university and our gates are open. Yes, we have a budget deficit, but management is working hard,” Mahlalela said. “We have a strategy to turn the deficit to a surplus.
“We felt that, despite the deficit, we should do more to assist students, especially the poorest, and improve the success rate through the process of funding students while they are waiting.”