As the Department, we are committed to realise, progressively, the right to further education (meaning Higher Education, and Technical and Vocational Education and Training) as enshrined in our Constitution.
This means ensuring that further education opportunities are available and accessible to all academically deserving students and that they are not denied access due to financial need.
We need to ensure, over the medium to long term, that sufficient financial aid is made available to support all academically deserving but financially needy university and TVET college students through income contingent loans and bursaries, and at the same time strive to keep student fees affordable.
What has not been sufficiently recognized by students and their leadership is how they have shaped the public discourse on the role and place of higher education in our society. The #FeesMustFall campaign has drawn attention to higher education as a public good rather than an expenditure, and how this public good is critically related to South Africa’s growth prospects and broader developmental trajectory.
At the same time, however, legitimate student demands for accessible quality education have also shown a darker side. A cesspool of vested financial and political interests have also entered the scene, essentially hoping to reap deplorable benefits from these demands. For instance, we have noted with deep concern how individuals with vested political and ideological interests have managed to turn what was essentially a peaceful student led, intersectional struggle into one characterized by violence and anarchy.
It is also becoming more evident that some business interests are looking on with glee at what they hope will signal the collapse of the public higher education system. The expectation is that the current crisis will drive quality and confidence in the public system to the point where scores will seek refuge in more stable and reliable private institutions. The casualties will be the poor and working class students, whilst students from the middle and upper class families will opt for private provision or studying abroad. Experienced academics frustrated with the chaos in the public sector will also be attracted abroad or to a more stable and better paying private sector.
This means that those student leaders and organisations genuinely concerned about access and affordability should maintain high levels of vigilance, as there are opportunist in their midst, ready to hijack their noble cause. On our part as government, we recommit ourselves to a genuine and honest process of engagement with key players. We are also pleased with the role played by progressive parent groupings and the clergy in a common endeavor to resolve the current crisis. The active involvement of broader society can only bode well for higher education, moving forward.
National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) Progress
As a result, a tremendous amount of progress has been made, particularly with expanding access to the poor through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) having funded over 1.7 million students since 1994. In 2016, NSFAS supported approximately 480 000 poor undergraduate students to access universities and TVET colleges.
In 2016, NSFAS disbursed loans and bursaries totalling R14 billion. During the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement, Minister Gordhan announced that government will provide an additional R9 billion for NSFAS over the period ahead, raising its funding by over 18% to universities over the next three years to assist financially needy students.
NSFAS will be funding 205 000 first time entering and continuing eligible students at universities and 200 000 students at TVET colleges in 2017, by providing student loans and bursaries totaling R15.2 billion.
Interventions for the Missing Middle
A number of interventions have been announced to assist students who come from poor and working class families and for the first time in the history of post-school education and training, the so-called “missing middle” – those families with income levels above the NSFAS threshold but who still find post-school education difficult to afford.
Government will pay the fee increase capped at 8% for all qualifying registered students with a gross combined family income up to R600 000 per annum in 2017. This is a grant, which covers the increases for tuition fees and university or college managed accommodation, and will not have to be repaid by qualifying students.
To qualify for the grant, university students must apply for the 2017 fee adjustment grant though a form obtainable from their institution.
- NSFAS funded students from poor and working class families will not pay any fee increase.
- Students from families with a gross combined income of up to R600 000 per annum, i.e. “missing middle” students, will not pay any fee increase. This means university students from these families will be paying the same fee they paid in 2015.
- This grant will benefit more than 75% of university and TVET college students, and in some institutions, more than 90% of students will benefit.
- Students from families with a gross combined income above R600 000 per annum will be expected to pay the fee increase. All students who come from richer families must pay their full fees.
- this means 0% fee adjustment for the poor and working;
- 0% fee increase for the “missing middle”; and
- 8% fee increase for the rich.
No Registration Fees for NSFAS Students
We have also gone further and made arrangements through the NSFAS to pay the registration fees for all NSFAS funded students as an upfront payment to universities and TVET colleges in January each year. Therefore, NSFAS qualifying students will not pay any registration or upfront fees in 2017.
Government has also addressed the issue of historical debt of NSFAS qualifying students. All NSFAS qualifying students who were registered in 2016, were successful in their studies, but who have accumulated historical student debt with institutions of higher education, will be allowed to register in 2017.
All universities will develop processes to enable academically successful “missing middle” students who have outstanding student debt to register in 2017. The financial sustainability of the quality of universities will be at risk if students do not pay their fees and outstanding debts. Students who are academically deserving and struggling financially to pay their registration fees and/or outstanding debt, must engage their university’s finance office to agree upon a repayment plan. Universities have been requested to manage student debt through fair and transparent debt management policies and processes in order to ensure that outstanding student debt is recovered over a reasonable and mutually acceptable period.
New Ikusasa Student Financial Aid Programme Model
During 2017, the Ikusasa Student Financial Aid Programme model, which is aimed at assisting the “missing middle”, will be piloted at six universities and one TVET college. The pilot will fund the studies of approximately 1 500 students studying in a number of general formative degrees as well as seven professional qualifications and one artisan qualification for the duration of their studies.
Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Funding of Higher Education and Training
The Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Funding of Higher Education and Training will release its final report in mid-2017 making recommendations on the feasibility of implementing fee-free higher education and training in South Africa.
The National Skills Fund (NSF) Boosts Scarce, Critical Skills
In addition to the funds that NSFAS has received from the funds voted by Parliament, the NSF makes further annual allocations aimed at funding the full cost of study towards critical skills programmes most needed for the growth and development of the economy. NSFAS has been allocated over R718 million for full bursaries for scarce and critical skills for the current year from the NSF. This funding is made available through the financial aid offices at institutions, and students wishing to make use of these bursaries are advised to enroll for critical skills study programmes, which include science, commerce, health sciences, engineering and many others.
The Department is also committed to expanding access and success in our institutions for students who have special needs. At our TVET colleges, for example, government pays 80% of the programme cost of the student’s choice with an additional allocation being made dependent on the type and severity of the disability. In addition, NSFAS has earmarked R76.6 million in the 2017 academic year to provide financial aid to disabled students in universities.