The drop in matric mathematics passes is worrying, Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister Blade Nzimande has said.Nzimande addressed the media in Pretoria on Thursday over the availability of space and opportunities at public universities and TVET colleges.He said the number of students who achieved 40% and above in the subject was lower than in 2018.A total of 121 179 candidates who wrote the National Senior Certificate (NSC) examination achieved 30% and above in mathematics, while 77 751 achieved 40% and above."What this means is that in most Bachelor's degree programmes that require mathematics, like engineering, medicine, etc., students who got lower than 40% in mathematics won't be accepted. Unless of course they can have exceptional results in other subjects."The worrying thing for us is that in 2019, the actual number who passed with 40% or above in mathematics was lower than the number in 2018. The number in 2018 was 86 874 and in 2019 it was 77 751, which means it's a drop," the minister said.Nzimande added spaces for more than 201 000 prospective new students were made available across the country's 26 public universities and 226 685 for TVET colleges.Minister Nzimande commenced the briefing by congratulating the #Classof2019 following the Minister of Basic Education announcement of the 2019 National Senior Certificate exam results. #PostSchoolEducation pic.twitter.com/RLxggO4xz8— South African Government (@GovernmentZA) January 16, 2020 The universities, however, would be expected to enrol within a 2% range, meaning the actual numbers after registration could be up to 4 020 more.The minister urged all pupils who failed not to despair, but to explore and consider other options, including the second chance matric support programme and other post-school education and training opportunities.NSFAS cannot fund failing studentsFor the 2020 academic year, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has received a record number of applications of more than 500 000.Nzimande said applicants included those who were writing their 2019 NSC examinations, grades 10 and 11 pupils intending to further their studies at TVET colleges and returning pupils.The NSFAS has so far approved 430 000 applications."A total of 281 639, about 52%, of all applications received thus far, are Sassa beneficiaries. We are proud of this because it means the government's system is able to ensure support for the poorer sections of our communities, right from birth, until the attainment of a qualification at a university or a college," Nzimande said.Universities vs TVET collegesUpon analysis of application statistics, according to institutions of choice, more students preferred universities than TVET colleges, the minister noted.He said statistics showed that 453 157 students preferred admission at universities, while 90 111 opted for colleges.More than 212 000 returning university students have been declared eligible for the NSFAS in the 2020 academic year.This is the first time that the fund has declared students eligible ahead of them registering, causing no hiccups for free registrations to those accepted at institutions.TVET returning students are yet to be processed as the NSFAS works with college principals to determine whether they meet the criteria for academic progression."That's why we want to say here loud and clear - students who have failed and do not qualify for the NSFAS can't be funded because if we had to do so, we would be reinforcing a wrong thing and depriving students who are capable of doing better," Nzimande said.