NSFAS receives 400 000 new funding applications

The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has received more than 400 000 new funding applications for its 2019 cycle, Higher Education Minister Naledi Pandor said on Tuesday. 

"The final decision will of course be made once we know that you have passed your National Senior Certificate, that you are admitted to an approved programme, and that you are registered," Pandor said at a briefing in Cape Town. 

NSFAS will finalise the approved students by the end of January, who will get a split of its R32bn budget.

In 2018, NSFAS disbursed loans and bursaries worth around R22bn for around 659 000 applicants, as former president Jacob Zuma's promise of free higher education was phased in for those who qualify.

The budget is expected to increase next year to R32bn to fund about 400 920 TVET students and 377 050 university students. 

After a fraught year, in which the scheme was placed under administration, the scheme and the department are feeling optimistic that 2019 will be better. 

"When student and university leaders complained, we thought disbursing upfront payment was addressing the problem, but funds were just sitting and not being disbursed," said Pandor.

"We have learnt some lessons about monitoring, and ensuring that we don't take at face value that a step you take actually addressed the problem," she said.

210 000 new spaces

Pandor said she considered this year's application process a success, and attributed it to a massive outreach programme, which included being available at community centres, shopping malls and even taxi ranks.

Manual applications were also accepted, and people who forgot to submit a document would be contacted to rectify this.

Dr Randall Carolissen was brought in as administrator by Pandor after NSFAS was placed under administration in August for one year.

"We are much more ready for 2019 than we ever were before, so that students can know upfront if they are indeed funded and for which courses," he said.

Between the opening of applications on September 3, and the closing date of December 3, NSFAS received roughly 3 200 applications a day.

In the last two weeks, applications peaked at around 30 000 a day.

Women made up 63% of the applicants and men 37%.

Only 12% of the applicants wanted to go to college and 88% wanted to go to university.

There are also 210 000 new spaces open at universities and colleges this year.

30% don't meet means test

Diane Parker, deputy director general for universities in the department, said that of the applications processed so far, 30% did not meet the means test.

This means that their parents or guardians earn above the threshhold to qualify for free education.

In addition, some of the more popular courses - such as medicine, engineering and actuarial science - may be oversubscribed. If this was the case, universities would let NSFAS know and NSFAS would look for options for these students at other institutions.

So far, 170 000 of the 400 000 people who applied for the first time are eligible if they pass the last hurdle - the results that will get them in if they are already registered.

This includes students who are already in their second year and above, and applicants who were out of school and had applied for funding for the first time.

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