Slow start for 2021 NSFAS applications but more expected to come in late
The National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has received 648,000 applications for the 2021 academic year, but this is an underwhelming figure, higher education minister Blade Nzimande said on Thursday.
He said 69% of the applications were from females.
“Concurrently we have received a high volume of applications from Sassa beneficiaries, amounting to 330,000 as a result of our MOU [memorandum of understanding] with the department of social development,” said Nzimande.
To date, KwaZulu-Natal dominates with the highest number of applications. KZN accounts for 157,252 (27%) applications, followed by Gauteng with 119,410 (20%) and Limpopo with 95,091 (16%).
Applications from the Western Cape and Northern Cape remained below expectations, said Nzimande.
“We expect this number to increase quite substantially, as past experience has shown that it is in the last two weeks of the application cycle when some students tend to apply in greater numbers. Rough estimates suggest that there will be over 800,000 new applications for the 2021 application cycle by the closing date at end of November 2020.”
The minister also expressed concern at the low number of applications from prospective students with disabilities.
“We remain deeply concerned at the slow and low rate of applications from students with disabilities and I would like to urge them to use this opportunity and apply for fully comprehensive bursary funding for 2021,” he said.
Nzimande said not all was lost for those who were yet to apply, as efforts to assist them were under way.
“As the closing date is looming NSFAS has embarked on an intensified outreach programme, visiting communities across the country to assist applicants who have not yet applied for funding. I would like to thank the department of basic education and the National Youth Developing Agency (NYDA) for availing their centres to be used as NSFAS applications centres,” he said.
“These centres will remain fully functional until the closing date of the 2021 application circle, which is November 30 2020.”
He also thanked NSFAS's outgoing administrator, Randall Carolissen, whose tenure ends in December this year.
“Despite many challenges, NSFAS is a much better entity now than it was when you took over,” he said.
He announced the appointment of a new CEO, Andile Nongogo, and 13 new board members.
Saving the 2020 academic year
Nzimande said the Covid-19 pandemic wreaked havoc and caused serious disruption to all facets of university operations, including their teaching and learning, and research and engagement programmes.
However, students and staff responded positively despite challenges posed by the virus.
“We have been closely monitoring the situation across all universities, and I am pleased to say that as of November 13 the vast majority of institutions (25) are at 'low risk' of not completing the academic year.
“I want to assure South Africans that all our universities are fully committed to complete the 2020 academic year by mid-March 2021. Twenty-five universities are set to start the 2021 academic year at end of March 2021 and one university in April,” said Nzimande.
He said the dates were in line with the expected release of the Basic Education National Senior Certificate results on February 23 2021.
“Despite the crisis that Covid-19 caused, valuable lessons have been learnt. We have again been starkly reminded of the high levels of inequality that prevail in SA generally, as well as in higher education,” he said.
Tuition and accommodation fees
Nzimande said he had written to all university councils with a proposal for a CPI-linked fee increase for 2021.
“This would be 4.7% on tuition fees and 6.7% on accommodation fees, in line with previous years. I am awaiting the response of university councils on this matter,” he said.
This as he released directions in the government gazette to provide a framework for tuition and accommodation fees in the university sector for the 2020 academic year.
These include, but are not limited to, students who are staying in university owned, managed or leased accommodation, who will not have to pay any additional accommodation fees.
Nzimande, however, said he was aware there could be additional costs for students in private accommodation.
“In this regard, we urge all private accommodation providers to work within this national framework as provided within this government gazette and I request that, wherever possible, universities assist students in negotiating with private providers on this matter.
“I urge that we all work together to find the best possible solution of supporting our students to effectively complete the academic year, within the budgetary constraints we face as a country and within our sector.”