From the news desk

Fee-free education off to a good start

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Deputy Higher Education and Training minister Buti Manamela reassured the public of the department’s ability to fund poor students.

“We obviously do not meet the demand, but the R57 billion we have is enough for our medium-term plans,” said Manamela on Thursday.

The department plans to pay for the studies of 1.16 million university students and 780 000 college students over the next three years.

About 82 000 of the 208 000 first-year students registered at universities qualified for a National Student Financial Aid Scheme (Nsfas) loan.

The department has set aside R4.6 billion worth of funding for first-year university students.

Next year, R21 billion will be spent on students, with a R3 billion increase in 2020.

Manamela said should additional funding be required, National Treasury would make adjustments to the budget while the department raised funds.

“We hope the adjustments we make over time will help us meet the demand for funding,” said Manamela.

Although beneficiaries will not have to pay back the department once they’ve completed their studies, they will have to be tax compliant and contribute to the fiscus.

The department is also working on a model to ensure all Nsfas beneficiaries contributed their time and skills towards the country’s development.

Asked about the growing calls to scrap historical debt, Manamela said Higher Education and Training Minister Hlengiwe Mkhize planned to investigate the impact these outstanding amounts had on the country.

The minister would then consult President Cyril Ramaphosa before announcing the outcome of her probe.

However, Manamela said beneficiaries who owed Nsfas were still being encouraged to back the scheme.

Nsfas has already collected more than R2 billion from past beneficiaries.

Manamela said funding for higher education would be deposited directly into the universities’ bank accounts.

Universities SA (Usaf) spokesperson Professor Ahmed Bawa said Nsfas had already paid a number of institutions of higher learning.

He said: “The budget allows us to have some confidence in the sustainability of the system.

“It is a very significant investment in the most talented young people from poor and working-class families.”

Bawa said Usaf scheduled bi-weekly meetings with Nsfas and the department to ensure funding was made available to universities.

However, Usaf is concerned about the Nsfas employee strike that started on Tuesday.

The employees downed tools in a bid to secure higher salaries.

“We hope the matter will be resolved quickly.

“It has the potential to cause tremendous mayhem in the system,” said Bawa.

University of Johannesburg spokesperson Herman Esterhuizen said 8 309 first-year students have applied for Nsfas funding this year.

About 3 000 of the applications were improved.

North-West University spokesperson Louis Jacobs said 3 282 first-year students’ Nsfas applications were approved.

Applicants are still being screened.

“At the beginning of the year, the university received a 15% upfront payment, which amounts to R73 million.

“Further payments will only be made once the allocation per student limit has been finalised and beneficiaries have signed contracts,” said Jacobs.

Wits University spokesperson Buhle Zuma said she did not have figures because students applied directly to the scheme.

University of KwaZulu-Natal spokesperson Normah Zondo said about 4 701 first-year students qualified for Nsfas funding.

University of Cape Town spokesperson Elijah Moholola said he would only know the number of first-year beneficiaries once all applications had been processed.

Applications only closed on Thursday.

Stellenbosch University spokesperson Martin Viljoen said 610 first-year students were provisionally funded by Nsfas.

[Source: News24]
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