In 2017 the government announced a significant change to student funding from 2018. The academic year has got off to a fairly smooth start following strenuous efforts by all stakeholders to ensure that the new funding programme is introduced with ease.

I wish to thank all stakeholders for the manner in which they offered guidance and support. There are of course continued difficult challenges that we still need to iron out including ensuring that all students who meet funding criteria get the funding due to them.

The department is working closely with NSFAS to ensure that it happens. Before I reflect on progress and challenges I wish to set out the details of the bursary scheme introduced this year.

Additional government funding of R7.166 billion in 2018 has been allocated to fund bursaries for children of poor and working class families entering universities and TVET colleges, with R4.581 billion set aside for qualifying university students and R2.585 billion for TVET college students.

As a result the baseline allocation to NSFAS to support poor and working class university and TVET students, will increase from the R9.849 billion in 2017/18 to R35.321 billion in 2020/21. This implies a need for improved efficiency and systems development at NSFAS.  We have therefore allocated an additional R105 million over the Medium Term Expenditure Framework to assist NSFAS to increase and strengthen its administrative capacity.

What has changed is that government will support poor and working class students through an expanded bursary scheme, which replaces the previous loan and partial bursary scheme.  Although first time entering students will not be expected to pay back the cost of their bursaries, they will be expected to meet certain conditions and expectations, including those relating to satisfactory academic performance and service conditions. The exact details are being finalised. I am pleased to announce that good progress has been made since the announcement to ensure that the new bursary scheme is implemented successfully.

In the case of TVET colleges, students in all years of study from families earning a gross combined annual income of up to R350 000, and who are registered (enrolled) for the National Certificates (Vocational) and Report 191 programmes at any public TVET college, will receive a bursary to cover their tuition fee and learning materials.

The increase in funding for 2018/19 will support 458 875 students to receive tuition bursaries. Based on historical data and the enrolment targets for 2018/19, it is estimated that more than 90% of TVET college students will benefit.

In addition, enrolled TVET college students who meet the requirements for travel and/or accommodation and meals, will also be supported for these. Approximately 50 480 TVET college students will qualify for accommodation and food, and a further 82 600 will qualify for transport allowances.

In the case of universities, the full cost of study DHET bursary scheme for poor and working class South Africans is being phased in from 2018, starting with first time entry (FTEN) students from South African families with a gross combined annual income of up to R350 000. Each year a new cohort will benefit from the scheme. All continuing existing NSFAS funded university students will receive their funding in 2018 and for the completion of their studies as grants rather than as loans.

The new funding allocation for first time entry university students is expected to fund approximately 40% (83 200) of the 208 000 spaces for new entrants at universities in 2018. The final number of students funded will only be known later in the year.

We have instructed all universities to keep within their enrolment targets, which determines how many students and in which fields of study, can be admitted to each university. Over 400 000 potential students applied for NSFAS this year. NSFAS is still in the process of integrating the registration data from institutions with its own funding eligibility data. NSFAS will be able to confirm final numbers once all registered students who match the financial eligibility criteria submit the requisite information. I am concerned at reports that many students who have submitted are not yet receiving their allocation.

Funding has been advanced to TVET colleges, to ensure that enrolments and tuition could continue without delay. Reconciliation of enrolled and funded students is currently underway between TVET colleges and NSFAS.

The implementation requires significant cooperation between NSFAS and institutions. My Department has been working closely with NSFAS, Universities South Africa (USAf), the South African Colleges Principals Organisation (SACPO) and student representative councils of universities and TVET colleges to ensure the effective roll out and implementation of the DHET Bursary Scheme in 2018.  Again, I wish to thank all stakeholders for their support.

In 2017, NSFAS migrated fully to the new “student-centred model”. There are still some challenges with finalising the 2017 intake, especially where qualifying students have not yet signed their loan agreement forms. I am aware that some continuing senior students have not yet had their funding finalised for the 2017 academic year. I find this to be unacceptable and have instructed my department and NSFAS to work with institutions to deal with the outstanding cases as a matter of urgency.

There are still significant challenges with regards to system integration between NSFAS and institutions.

This has affected the submission of registration data to NSFAS. The exchange of data is crucial, as this will confirm to NSFAS that students assessed to be eligible for funding in terms of the means test are registered at an institution. This data integration also enables NSFAS to generate a bursary agreement form, which must be signed by the registered student before funding is allocated to the student. Once agreements are signed, students receive their funding allocations.

Some institutions report that they have submitted required data but students have not received funds. I have instructed NSFAS to urgently address the integration issues and work with the affected institutions. It is crucial that NSFAS finalises the 2018 funding decisions urgently to ensure that all eligible students are confirmed, bursary agreements are signed and students get their allowances.

Student organisations have indicated concerns about allowance payments and these are being addressed. I intend to release data on beneficiaries during my budget speech in May.

I have decided that we must assess all NSFAS processes and systems this year, and address all the identified problems that have been brought to our attention. The DHET will ensure that the NSFAS systems are effectively integrated into the colleges and university systems and that NSFAS staff work closely with financial aid offices at institutional level to address any problems. Every single delay has a real effect on students, on their ability to access accommodation and food, books and ultimately on their ability to succeed. We simply cannot fail to distribute funding to students when it is available.

Students, we are attending to these problems and I urge you to sign your bursary agreements as soon as they are available. Any senior students who have not signed their 2017 loan agreement forms or schedule of particulars must do so immediately! You have a responsibility to ensure that the institution that supported you is paid.

Universities and colleges must work with NSFAS and assist with ensuring that their IT systems are compatible and that all the data integration issues are dealt with. Doing this will enable you to support your students better and have their fees paid over to yourselves by NSFAS sooner.

More will be done to ensure success of the NSFAS ‘student-centred’ model. I have directed NSFAS to ensure that the relationship between NSFAS and the Financial Aid Offices at our institutions is re-established for purposes of ensuring effective implementation.

We must enable institutions to have staff who can answer all NSFAS related questions.

TVET colleges and universities have also received an increase in their subsidy allocation over the MTEF. I will address this in more detail at a later stage, as the additional subsidy provides us with an opportunity to grow more student-centred and successful institutions.

The success and sustainability of the DHET Bursary Scheme is dependent on foundations, other government departments and the private sector continuing to offer bursaries and scholarships to students. I would like to urge our partners in government, non-profit organisations and the private sector to continue their support for students in TVET colleges and universities as government alone cannot address all the funding challenges.

Student funding is a critical contributor to the success of students in TVET colleges and universities. As government, we have made an enormous commitment to student support in the form of this new bursary scheme. It is important that we succeed. I call on stakeholders to work together to ensure we succeed.

Issued by Government Communication and Information Systems

24 April 2018