Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Blade Nzimande is gearing up for a smooth 2024 academic year. The minister is hoping that several challenges experienced by stakeholders in 2023 will be addressed and ensure a smooth new year.
Nzimande will host an “extensive press briefing” this week to inform the nation on the state of readiness for the Post School Education and Training sector. However, the majority of people tuning into the briefing will be focused on the minister's plan for the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).
NSFAS 2024 Applications
NSFAS currently funds more than one million students enrolled in approved courses at public universities and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges. The number of funded students is expected to grow when NSFAS 2024 applications open this week.
Prospective students can begin submitting NSFAS bursary applications from Tuesday 21 November 2023 on the official NSFAS website. They will have until 31 January 2024 to submit a NSFAS online application. This means that students will have just over two months to submit applications for the lucrative bursaries.
Minister Nzimande called for NSFAS to resolve challenges that plagued students in the last twelve months.
While the 2023 academic year is nearing its climax, some students don’t know if NSFAS will pay their fees. This comes after around 40,000 students were defunded in August.
While these students can submit NSFAS appeal applications, if this appeal application is unsuccessful, they will be responsible for coming up with large amounts of money in a short space of time to pay for their studies and progress to the next year of their studies.
Nzimande bemoaned the fact that these appeal applications often take a considerable amount of time before they are financed. While this time passes, students lose access to allowances for food, stationery and accommodation placing them at risk of hunger and homelessness.
NSFAS does have challenges on the whole, largely with paying out the monies for students and so on, but there are obstacles that are there in terms of Swift responses, for instance, in cases of appeals when students are appealing as well as the issue of the payment of allowances
In October, NSFAS received the findings of an investigation conducted by Werksmans Attorneys. The investigation looked at allegations of corruption levelled at the NSFAS CEO as well as scheme procurement and operational systems.
Nzimande urged NSFAS to implement the recommendations made in the report to ensure the smooth operation of the scheme which millions of financially vulnerable students rely on.
I've said to NSFAS, make sure that you implement every recommendation that is in that report because the other challenge does not just rest with NSFAS; it also rests with institutions, and especially the timely and efficient sharing of information between universities and colleges
Comprehensive Student Funding Model
Nzimande also announced that they will brief parliament in the next few weeks regarding the proposed comprehensive student funding model. The funding model is aiming to provide much-needed support for missing students who do not meet the eligibility criteria for NSFAS.
I'm also going to cabinet in the next week or two on the proposed new student funding model which also is going to be responding to attending to the needs of those students who do not qualify for NSFAS but yet they come from families who are not rich enough to be able to easily afford, especially university education
The minister called on all stakeholders in the higher education sector to work together to address challenges facing the sector.