Cabinet approves additional funding for student financial aid scheme

First-time students dependent on the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) can expect to get funding because universities’ registration process will continue as planned. 

On Wednesday, the cabinet went into a meeting to discuss how to quell the protests at higher education institutions. The meeting was held amid violent protests by University of the Witwatersrand students. Mthokozisi Ntumba, 35, was shot and killed after police fired rubber bullets outside the university. He was not a student.

Students were protesting about the uncertainties of funds after Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande said on Monday that NSFAS is experiencing a funding shortfall, and that is why it has not confirmed funding for first-year students.

Speaking at a press briefing on Thursday after the cabinet’s decision, Nzimande said the shortfall “has delayed NSFAS in being able to communicate funding decisions to students and institutions for first-time entering students in public universities”.

He said that on Wednesday, the government had agreed “that funding should be reprioritised from the budget of the department of higher education and training to ensure that all deserving NSFAS-qualifying students are able to receive funding support for the 2021 academic year”.

Nzimande added that “further reprioritisation can only be considered as part of the medium term budget process of government”, which will take place later this year. 

When asked why the cabinet waited until Wednesday to make a decision on funding relief, weeks after protests erupted, he said: “We did not start addressing the problem now. We started addressing the problem as early as towards the end of last year. 

“The reason why it has taken us to this extent, you must bear in mind that the academic year has finished late. And it was only right towards the end of the academic year that we could get the full scale of the nature and the shortfall amount. We have been monitoring this. We have been aware there is going to be a shortfall, and we have been engaging inside the government around the shortfall.” 

He did not elaborate on what measures were being taken to address the projected shortfall. 

Nzimande noted that universities had extended the registration period “to ensure that students without funding decisions would not be prevented from accessing a place that they qualify for”.

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Eunice Stoltz
Eunice Stoltz is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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