The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) provides allowances to students for accommodation, transport, food and other living expenses.
The private accredited accommodation allowance for university students was capped at R45 000 for the 2023 academic year by NSFAS and has caused many students funded by the bursary to struggle to find accommodation.
Universities South Africa (USAF), the representative body of the 26 public universities in the country supported the NSFAS accommodation capping as long as the cap was suitable for the areas universities were in.
Some universities submitted appeal letters to the bursary scheme saying that the cap amount of R45 000 was insufficient for the accommodation in its areas.
The USAF Chief Executive Officer, Dr Phetiwe Matutu has called for the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Innovation to request the report relating to the types of accommodation in and around universities from NSFAS, as the report deals with research on the matter.
NSFAS and USAF engaged on 5 and 6 October 2022 and USAF said it did not recommend a single-cap for all national institutions. It did however suggest that the policy be tested out in a few institutions, taking into consideration the demographics of those institutions.
According to USAF, there are only 10 institutions which are suited for the cap amount and 15 are not suited, UNISA is not affected.
They say some institutions can pay for the difference between the cap amount and the actual rent amount required by accommodation providers for students and it is all based on the ability of an institution to do so.
The Chairperson of Finance and Investment Committee of USAF, Professor Francis Petersen said student accommodation should be self-sustainable and not subsidised by universities.
Petersen said that university contributions are usually for students' tuition and used the University of the Free State (UFS) as example. UFS set aside an estimated amount of R120 million to provide bursaries for students who cannot afford to pay tuition.
USAF is having ongoing engagements with the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation and his department regarding this matter.
At least 10 higher education institutions have no intention to appeal the accommodation allowance capping by NSFAS as it does not negatively impact them. However, 10 universities have appealed and at least five more institutions are planning to appeal not including UNISA as they are not affected by the accommodation capping.