Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Dr Blade Nzimande on Monday said there had been a significant increase in the number of students applying for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).
The minister gave an update on the scheme’s growth from 2014 to 2019. He said the government was meeting the demand to fund the education of students from poor and working-class families.
NSFAS recently came under scrutiny amid student protests at the country’s universities in February over registration fees and the scrapping of historical debt. The Office of the Public Protector in March launched an investigation into the fund after R7 billion in irregular expenditure was allegedly uncovered.
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Despite the scheme’s challenges, Nzimande believes NSFAS is able to meet the demand for funding.
“This is in line with the government’s commitment to fund university and TVET college students from poor and working-class backgrounds to attain at least a first undergraduate qualification or a TVET college qualification. Our government is meeting these policy commitments for each year in recent years,” he said in a statement.
The minister said NSFAS funding had increased more than five-fold in six years, from R5.9 billion in 2014 to R34.7 billion in 2020.
NSFAS funding is expected to reach R43 billion this financial year, an 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 materials, daily allowances and, in some cases, a transport allowance. In addition, government policy (N+1) allows all NSFAS students an extra year in which to complete their certificates, diplomas or degrees, 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 since 2018,” he said.
Nzimande said the main goal of his department and NSFAS is to ensure that financial aid reaches the right students timeously.