Stakeholders including the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), student leadership, university representatives and the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) came together to discuss what is being done in preparation for a smooth year.
NSFAS board chairperson Ernest Khosa stressed the importance of firm consequence management to address issues related to direct payments. A 2023 investigation found that there may have been possible relationships between key individuals including NSFAS CEO Andile Nongogo and the Fintech companies appointed to pay allowances directly to students.
Khosa also informed the committee about the challenges faced by NSFAS, including a legal dispute initiated by the CEO following an investigation by Werksmans Attorneys into allegations and a review of procurement systems.
The NSFAS chairperson highlighted the potential impact of budget cuts imposed by the National Treasury on NSFAS, expressing concern that the scheme might face difficulties in timely allowance payments, particularly at the beginning of the academic year.
The Acting CEO of NSFAS, Masile Ramorwesi, presented calculations indicating that a 10% reduction in university funding could leave 87,712 students unfunded in the 2024 academic year.
The committee acknowledged the serious consequences of budget cuts on higher education institutions and raised concerns about loadshedding, which could pose challenges for online applications.
The committee urged all stakeholders to refrain from solely attributing failures to NSFAS, emphasising the collective responsibility of all involved parties to secure the academic futures of South African students.
Higher Education Committee Chairperson Nompendulo Mkhatshwa said university councils could play a bigger role in supporting accountability by ensuring that universities and TVET colleges are ready for 2024. Committee members agreed that honest and transparent stakeholder engagement could reduce the impact of challenges facing the sector.
Universities South Africa (USAf) said that more than 210,000 first-time students are expected to enrol in programmes at South Africa’s 26 public universities in 2023. This means that total enrollment in the public sector will reach over 1.1 million students. Approximately 60% of students in the university sector are female.
South African Public Colleges Organisation (SAPCO) which represents the country’s 50 TVET colleges called for greater equilibrium when it comes to funding TVET College students.
The union says that TVET students receive less funding than university students, an imbalance that should be rectified, particularly when it comes to living allowances. SAPCO also mentioned that 40 000 beds have been accredited in 2024 and proposed that NSFAS and service providers enter into direct leases and agreements on rental rates
The South African Union of Students (SAUS) argued that the persistent challenges faced by both university and TVET students in securing accommodation each year call for the department to closely monitor NSFAS to mitigate potential instability.
They explain that this instability disproportionately affects students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.