SA: Progress made in implementing free higher education

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Higher Education and Training Minister Naledi Pandor says progress has been made to ensure that the new bursary scheme is implemented successfully.

This comes after government’s announcement in 2017 that free education would be implemented to support poor students whose parents’ combined annual income is R350 000 or less.

As a result, additional government funding of R7.166 billion has been allocated in 2018 to fund bursaries for children of poor and working class families entering universities and TVET colleges – with R4.581 billion set aside for qualifying university students and R2.585 billion allocated for TVET college students.

Briefing journalists in Cape Town, the Minister said what has changed following the announcement is that government will support poor and working class students through an expanded bursary scheme, which replaces the previous loan and partial bursary scheme.

“Although first time entering students will not be expected to pay back the cost of their bursaries, they will be expected to meet certain conditions and expectations, including those relating to satisfactory academic performance and service conditions.

“The exact details are being finalised. I am pleased to announce that good progress has been made since the announcement to ensure that the new bursary scheme is implemented successfully,” she said.

Allocations to TVET, universities unpacked

The Minister said for TVET colleges, students in all years of study will receive a bursary to cover their tuition fee and learning materials.

The TVET students will need to meet certain requirements to qualify, meaning that they must come from families earning a gross combined annual income of up to R350 000 and that they are registered for the National Certificate (Vocational) and Report 191 programmes at any public TVET college.

She said the increase in funding for 2018/19 will support 458 875 students to receive tuition bursaries. Based on historical data and the enrolment targets for 2018/ 19, it is estimated that more than 90% of TVET college students will benefit.

“In addition, enrolled TVET college students who meet the requirements for travel and or accommodation and meals will also be supported for this. Approximately 50 480 TVET college students will qualify for accommodation and food, and a further 82 600 will qualify for transport allowances,” she said.

The Minister said in the case for universities, the full cost of bursary scheme for poor and working class South Africans is being phased in from 2018 starting with first time entry students from South African families with a gross combined annual income of up to R350 000.

She said that every year, a new cohort of students will benefit from the scheme.

All continuing existing National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) funded university students will receive their funding in 2018 and for the completion of their studies as grants rather than as loans, the Minister said.

“The new funding allocation for first time entry university students is expected to fund approximately 40% (83 200) of the 208 000 spaces for new entrants at universities in 2018.

“The final number of students funded will only be known later in the year,” she said.

The Minister said she has instructed all universities to keep within their enrolment targets, which determines how many students and in which fields of study can be admitted to each university.

“Over 400 000 potential students applied for NSFAS this year. NSFAS is still in the process of integrating the registration data from institutions with its own funding eligibility data.

“NSFAS will be able to confirm final numbers once all registered students who match the financial eligibility criteria submit the requisite information. I am concerned at reports that many students who have submitted are not yet receiving their allocation,” she said.

Student allowance challenges are being addressed

Meanwhile, the minister said challenges that have resulted in students not receiving their allowances were being addressed.

She said that the department has been working closely with NSFAS, Universities South Africa (USAf), the South African Colleges Principals Organisation (SACPO) and student representative councils of universities and TVET colleges to ensure the effective roll out and implementation of the DHET Bursary Scheme in 2018.

The Minister also said that while NSFAS migrated fully to the new “student-centred model”, there are still some challenges with finalising the 2017 intake, especially where qualifying students have not yet signed their loan agreement forms.

“I am aware that some continuing senior students have not yet had their funding finalised for the 2017 academic year.

“I find this to be unacceptable and have instructed my department and NSFAS to work with institutions to deal with the outstanding cases as a matter of urgency,” she said.

She said that there are still significant challenges with regards to system integration between NSFAS and institutions.

This, the Minister said, has affected the submission of registration data to NSFAS.

She said that the exchange of data is crucial, it serves as a confirmation to NSFAS that students assessed to be eligible for funding in terms of the means test are registered at an institution.

“Some institutions report that they have submitted required data but students have not received funds.

“I have instructed NSFAS to urgently address the integration issues and work with the affected institutions,” she said.

The Minister said that she has decided that government must assess all NSFAS processes and systems this year, and address all the identified problems that have been brought to their attention.

The [department] will ensure that the NSFAS systems are effectively integrated into the colleges and university systems and that NSFAS staff work closely with financial aid offices at institutional level to address any problems.

“Every single delay has a real effect on students, on their ability to access accommodation and food, books and ultimately on their ability to succeed. We simply cannot fail to distribute funding to students when it is available.

“Students, we are attending to these problems and I urge you to sign your bursary agreements as soon as they are available. Any senior students who have not signed their 2017 loan agreement forms or schedule of particulars must do so immediately.

“You have a responsibility to ensure that the institution that supported you is paid.”