Shortage in student funds

2015-01-26 00:00

AS many universities across the country start academic lectures today, numerous prospective students face uncertain futures due to a lack of substantial funding.

Despite government steadily expanding ­annual budgets, the high demand for financial aid outstrips the funds it dedicates to the National Students Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

Lectures begin on February 9 at the University of KwaZulu-Natal as the institution is busy with registration and the allocation of students, while Durban University of Technology’s ­academic lectures start this week.

NSFAS has set aside R9,5 billion in bursaries and loans for this year — a R1,3 billion increase from 2014. The amount of money allocated to universities is limited and universities have been explicitly instructed not to overspend on the amounts allocated to them, said Professor ­Adam Habib.

Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande said the failure of graduates to pay NSFAS debts cripples them, thus ­resulting in a shortfall. He admitted that there are not adequate funds for needy students.

Funds owed by graduates to the financial aid body total R7,5 billion.

“We are very worried because the money ­recovered is used to pay a 30% upfront payment to universities to assist poor students who may not afford registration,” he said.

NSFAS would fund 205 000 first-time, and continuingly eligible students at universities and 200 000 students at technical and ­vocational education and training colleges.

Over 400 000 students were funded in 2014.

“Last year, NSFAS provided student loans and bursaries totalling over R8,3 billion, which excluded the once-off allocation of R1 billion for the servicing of the 2013 shortfall of R700 million and 2014 shortfall of R300 million,” ­Nzimande said.

The department said it has strategic plans to recover funds owed by graduates.

“We are embarking on recovery campaign soon. At the moment we working with South African Revenue Services to trace those who owe us, we also work with employers to assist in recovering the debt,” said Nzimande.

DA shadow deputy minister of higher education and training Yusuf Cassim suggested the unspent R2 billion funds by the Skills Education Training Authorities (Seta) be diverted to assist students. “When the unspent funds by Seta was brought to the attention of the parliamentary portfolio committee of higher education and training, we urged the minister to commit these funds to NSFAS. It is now time that the money is put to a better use,” he said.

Meanwhile, Nzimande said the National Skills Fund would also step in to help students who are studying towards critical skills programmes that are most needed for the growth of the economy.

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