Higher education institutions may continue to battle with the effects of fee free higher education, insourcing of staff and accommodation next year.
The country has 26 universities and 50 technical, vocational education and training colleges (TVETs).
Professor Ahmed Bawa, chief executive officer at Universities South Africa (USAf) said in the past weeks that with the introduction of different versions of insourcing, there is no question that there are now new cost drivers in institutional budgeting and this will have an impact on infrastructure funding.
USAf represents all of the 26 university vice-chancellor in the country.
The SA College Principals Organisation (Sacpo) general secretary Sam Zungu said that colleges, like universities, were concerned about challenges that could creep up next year.
These include the timely disbursement of student allowances by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas), speedy release of academic results and provision of both training as well as accommodation facilities for colleges.
Sacpo represents 50 TVET colleges in the country.
Zungu said the department of higher education and training (DHET), Nsfas, colleges and other stakeholders were “working hard in mitigating any potential risk that might be associated with the offering of fee free education”.
With regard to Nsfas, more than 400 000 applications were received between the opening of applications period in September and the closing of applications on December 3.
However, challenges have already been identified.
Nsfas revealed last week that of the 400 000 applicants, over 57 346 were missing supporting documents and were given until December 14 to make submissions or their application would be rejected.
On average, DHET Minister Naledi Pandor said that Nsfas received more than 3200 applications a day from September to December.
Most of the applicants were females – making up about 63% while males stood at 37%.
“However, it is a concern that only 12% of the applications are from pupils who wish to enrol at TVET colleges, with the balance of 88% being applications for universities,” she said.
She said Nsfas will communicate to students who meet the financial eligibility criteria and have received an academic offer via SMS or email at the beginning of January, once academic results have been made available to Nsfas.
Funding is only confirmed once a student has met the financial eligibility criteria and is formally registered at a public TVET college or university for an approved funded programme.
“During this process, Nsfas will work closely with institutions to ensure that integration of data is quick and seamless; to allow the timeous release of funds to students and avoid any repetition of the delays of 2018; where some qualifying students were left frustrated, homeless, hungry and, without confirmation of their funding,” she said.
Pandor said Nsfas would disburse approximately R32 billion next year, which is estimated to fund about 377 050 university students and 400 920 TVET students.
“The scheme has to date funded more than three million students since its inception, with more than R60 billion invested,” Pandor said.
At least two universities responded to City Press’ questions on whether they have any concerns for next year.
Walter Sisulu University (WSU) spokesperson Yonela Tukwayo said: “The reality is that there is no free education for all students and our SRC leaders have indicated that they will continue to stand up for those that fall outside the Nsfas threshold yet cannot afford university fees.”
Tukwayo said student accommodation also remained a problem.
“We currently accommodate 46% of students in university-owned and privately-owned (leased) accommodation. This continues to be a challenge because the demand for accommodation is very high.
"Being a rural-based university, WSU should be offering accommodation for at least 80% of the students. With funding commitments from the education department, we will commence with the construction of more student residences but even intervention will not solve the problem.”
She said their past and current students owed the university over R830 million in unpaid fees.
“This massive shortfall on the revenue has a dire impact on the university's ability to provide good services, the university is unable to carry out routine maintenance on infrastructure and equipment and offer quality student life experience. Some of our residences need major renovations. WSU is still one of the universities that outsource certain services (cleaning, security and gardening services).”
Tukwayo said no decision has been made with regards to insourcing of staff but this was on their agenda.
“The costs associated with insourcing are likely to cripple our finances, given that we charge low fees and the large outstanding fees owed to WSU. It's not only about our matching salaries, but there are other staff related costs we would have to incur and equipment acquisition for those insourced services,” Tukwayo said.
She said outsourcing costs WSU around R75 million a year at the moment but insourcing the same services will cost the university over R200 million.
“Our priority must be to provide decent living and working conditions for students and current staff and once we consolidate the university's financial position we can insource,” Tukwayo said.
North-West University vice-chancellor Prof Dan Kgwadi said the university does not expect challenges next year other than concerns over accommodation at the university’s Mafikeng campus.
Kgwadi said accommodation was a national issue and remained a big challenge at their Mafikeng campus because it was a rural campus.