Higher Education and Training Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, says the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has been unable to finalise funding for new university students, as the scheme is facing a funding shortfall for 2021.

Explaining the reasons for the shortfall at a media briefing on 2021 funding decisions for prospective students, Nzimande said that due to COVID-19, NSFAS had to continue paying allowances to students, even at the time when universities were closed, to give students access to multimodal learning and teaching.

“This means we had an extended academic year, for which we did not allocate additional money,” Nzimande said on Monday.

Another reason for the shortfall, the Minister said, was due to budget cuts across government departments, as well as the deteriorating economic situation. Nzimande said many applicants, who previously did not meet the funding requirements for NSFAS, now do, as the majority of their parents lost their jobs due to COVID-19.

“Of cause not all these shortfalls are due to COVID-19 alone. The deteriorating situation associated with budget cuts started a long time ago before COVID-19.

“In terms of the laws and policies regulating public finances for departments and entities, including the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA), NSFAS is not able to commit to funding students without the requisite budget available to support this commitment,” Nzimande said.

Nzimande said the department has made an agreement with all public universities to extend the registration period for first time entering students for two weeks, so that students are not disadvantaged by the delay in the finalisation of NSFAS funding.

Funding for returning beneficiaries continues

The Minister said NSFAS is going to fund all returning NSFAS beneficiaries who meet the academic and other relevant criteria for continuing their studies.

In this regard, he said, the usual processes will apply, whereby institutions share the relevant registration data and information with NSFAS, which is then able to confirm the funded lists of students with institutions.

During the Budget Vote Speech on 24 February 2021, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni said government remains committed to ensuring that deserving students are supported.

In line with this commitment, Mboweni directed the Department of Higher Education and Training to work with National Treasury to identify policy and funding options to be detailed in the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS).

Nzimande confirmed that this work is underway, and options will be presented to Cabinet on Wednesday for consideration.

“The student funding policy is the responsibility of government as a whole, and as the Minister responsible for higher education and training, I have to get concurrence and approval by Cabinet. We are doing everything possible to resolve this issue as a matter of extreme urgency,” Nzimande said.

He said the funding guidelines for universities for 2021 will be finalised as soon as Cabinet makes a determination in this regard.

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